Miami Open: Tournament offers a glimpse of what tennis could look like without Big 3, Serena Williams

Miami Open offered a glimpse into what tennis could look like when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams retire and it was still scintillating.

Tanuj Lakhina April 05, 2021 14:54:13 IST
Miami Open: Tournament offers a glimpse of what tennis could look like without Big 3, Serena Williams

Ash Barty (L) won the Miami Open women's title while Hubert Hurkacz won the men's crown. AP

In the first combined tournament on the ATP and WTA Tours since the pandemic, Miami Open went off without a glitch. There were fans in attendance, albeit limited. The court looked pristine in its new colour at the Hard Rock Stadium. The quality of tennis on display was what you would expect from a Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 event. Ash Barty won the women’s event and Hubert Hurkacz the men’s.

Barty deserves the title and No 1 rank

Barty needed 45 hours to reach Miami from Australia due to cancelled flights. The Aussie then came within a point of losing in the opening match in her first contest outside of Australia in more than a year. She trailed 2-5 to Kristina Kucova and saved a match point in the win.

As the tournament progressed, she picked up momentum for impressive wins over Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Aryna Sabalenka, Elina Svitolina and Bianca Andreescu. That is three straight top-10 wins in a week.

There have been questions raised over the 24-year-old holding on to the top rank since 2019 when she won the French Open. Barty opted against playing outside Australia in 2020. Naomi Osaka, meanwhile, won the US Open and this year’s Australian Open.

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. That's absolutely fine. I can't control what anyone else thinks or what anyone else says. I feel like we deserve to be top of the rankings," she said.

"It doesn't ever really get to me. I mean, it's just what people say and I can't change their opinion, so it doesn't stress me out at all."

Rankings freeze wouldn’t be fair to everyone and it wasn’t expected to be. The rules applied to everyone, just that Barty reaped benefits of it due to a stellar 2019. The Aussie was consistent on different surfaces in 2019, something that cannot be said for Osaka.

Andreescu is a joy to watch

Miami Open Tournament offers a glimpse of what tennis could look like without Big 3 Serena Williams

Bianca Andreescu is a joy to watch and will contend for the titles if she can stay fit. AP

The Canadian returned to tour after a lengthy layoff and it is a shame that the final wasn’t what many hoped. Down 3-6, 0-4, Andreescu retired hurt having twisted her right ankle.

But in the week, Andreescu highlighted what we had missed. She beat Amanda Anisimova in a tough fight; out hit one of the fiercest strikers of the ball at the moment in Garbine Muguruza; and needed two more three setters against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Maria Sakkari to make the final.

That is four consecutive three-setters against the best hitters on hard courts presently. “Let’s Go” and “C’mon” were repeated throughout these matches. It is a shame that it had to end in this way. The Canadian is keen on shedding the reputation of being injury prone while acknowledging it might be too late for that.

What one can look forward to is the potential Barty-Andreescu rivalry – two young tennis players who hold a variety of weapons and have the ability to leave their opponents helpless. More of this please!

Hurkacz makes merry as other men falter

Miami Open Tournament offers a glimpse of what tennis could look like without Big 3 Serena Williams

Hubert Hurkacz became the first Polish player to win a Masters 1000 title in Miami. AP

There were no Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem at the Miami Masters. More than 30 top-100 men’s players decided to skip an ATP Masters 1000 event – the top tier on the tour. For the quartet, the reasons ranged from injuries, recovery and family time. Beyond the lip speak, the main reason could very well be the reduced prize money. The prize money for the winners were reduced from $1.35 million in 2019 to $300,110 – a drop of 80 percent. The overall prize money went down from $16.7 million to $6.68 million. Not that Hubert Hurkacz mind.

“I knew when Novak, Rafa, Roger and Dominic Thiem said they were not going to play, some of the younger guys would have a chance to play really deep,” said Hurkacz. Guess he included himself in that list.

The Pole became the first men’s singles player to win a Masters 1000 event and did so in glorious fashion. He scored back-to-back top-10 wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas – coming from a set and a break down - and Andrey Rublev to eke a place in the final. And in the title clash, changed tactics to beat Jannik Sinner.

Hurkacz, who trains in Tampa, is unbeaten in Florida this year. He won the title at Delray Beach and went 10-0 in the Sunshine State while jumping to World No 16.

He took inspiration from fellow Pole Iga Swiatek, who won the French Open last year, saying, “I was super proud of Iga. What she has done there in [the] French Open was amazing. I think that gave the belief for us: for me, myself, and the younger players in Poland that it's possible to win those big titles.”

Women’s tour > Men’s tour

If Miami Open is any indication, the women’s tour has multiple players who make matches entertaining. One considers it an issue of inconsistency among players, or lack of rivalry, but it also opens the possibility of more even matches. While the men withdrew in abundance, the women travelled to Miami and delivered with some incredible matches. Sakkari, Sabalenka, Svitolina, all play an interesting brand of tennis which keeps the higher ranked players on their toes.

On the men’s side, the typical contenders in Daniil Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Rublev, Alexander Zverev didn’t win the title as many would have expected. In lieu, Sinner, 19, exemplified his case for being the next big thing. Except he doesn’t want to jump the gun. Son of a cook and a waitress, “The road is long,” he said. “I know that. My team knows that.”

Another contender emerged in Sebastian Korda. Son of former World No 2 Petr Korda, Sebastian was the last remaining American in the draw. Alexander Bublik and Lorenzo Musetti are also ones to watch out for in the next couple of years.

“Everyone can win now,” Rublev said after his quarter-final win over Korda. “It’s not about ranking.”

Hot mess on men’s tour

Miami Open Tournament offers a glimpse of what tennis could look like without Big 3 Serena Williams

Vasek Pospisil ranted about the ATP Tour chairman in his loss in Miami. AFP

The off-court organisational issues within the men’s tour were a hot mess already. In Miami, they got a lot hotter and a whole lot messier. Vasek Pospisil’s meltdown against Mackenzie McDonald, from nowhere, was the talking point of the first week in Miami.

Pospisil, co-founder of the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), alongside Djokovic, was going smoothly at 3-3 40-0 before throwing it all away. He smashed a racket, smacked a ball and then tanked to lose the opening set. If that wasn’t enough drama, as he sat down, he let out, “An hour and a half yesterday, the chair of the ATP f---ing screaming at me in a player meeting for trying to unite the players. For an hour and a half. The leader of the ATP. Get him out here. F------ a------."

He went on to add, "Why am I here? If you want to default me I’ll gladly sue this whole organisation."

Yikes.

Pospisil apologised for his behaviour on Twitter later, fellow players rallied behind him in a seemingly co-ordinated effort, but the cat was out of the bag. All was not good within the ATP leadership and PTPA.

A Daily Telegraph report claimed multiple rounds of meetings “failed to produce a united platform from which the players could challenge the ATP leadership”. The topics on the table ranged from reduced prize money, frozen rankings and bubble systems at tournaments.

A Canadian website, Open Court, reported that the meeting got heated to such an extent that Pospisil was left "in tears, and that even just before he took the court today to play his match, he was still shaken up."

To bring everyone up to speed, formation of the PTPA was announced at the US Open last year. Numerous players stood on a court, photographed and the PTPA was born. Djokovic, Pospisil then resigned from the ATP Player’s Council.

Since then, silence. There is little clarity on what PTPA stands for besides the speak of ‘player’s rights’ and there is no communique on who is part of the organisation. More tellingly, there is no clarity on what is their solution to the challenges faced by players in this COVID-19 affected world.

Clearly all is not well on the men’s tour but we knew that coming into Miami, just not the extent of it.

Updated Date:

also read

Maiden title for Veronika Kudermetova with Charleston WTA win
Sports

Maiden title for Veronika Kudermetova with Charleston WTA win

The 15th-seeded Kudermetova dominated from the outset to claim a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Kovinic, ranked 91 in the world.

World Table Tennis Day: From G Sathiyan to Achanta Sharath Kamal, top five sensational triumphs by Indians at UTT
Sports

World Table Tennis Day: From G Sathiyan to Achanta Sharath Kamal, top five sensational triumphs by Indians at UTT

On World Table Tennis Day, here are the top five sensational triumphs by Indian paddlers against some of world’s biggest names during three seasons of Ultimate Table Tennis.

French Open 2021 postponed by one week, confirm tournament organisers
Sports

French Open 2021 postponed by one week, confirm tournament organisers

The French Tennis Federation said it hoped the delay could enable more fans to attend if COVID-19 restrictions are eased by then.