By Jane Voigt
March 27, 2018 — The last time a player outside the so-called Big Four won the men’s singles at the Miami Open was 2010. Andy Roddick raised the trophy then. So with Roddick retired and those four elite men out — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray — it’s time for the #NextGen guys to seize control. And seize it they will.
Here’s the lineup of possible semifinalists: Hyeon Chung (No. 19); Borna Coric (No. 29); Denis Shapovalov (unseeded); Alexander Zverev (No. 4); Nick Kyrgios (No. 17) and Francis Tiafoe (unseeded).
If we’re going to get technical, and why not, Zverev and Kyrgios are not considered #NextGen even if both fit the age requirement. Zverev is 20, Kyrgios 22. Zverev had lead the group but out-performed his fellows to the point that he skipped the first #NextGen tournament last fall. He was too good. Kyrgios staked his reputation a while back having the nerve, and game, to chalk up wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic in their first meetings, leaving Murray to hold a 5-0 head-to-head over Kyrgios.
Interestingly enough, and by the luck of the draw, Kyrgios and Zverev face-off this evening. The same fate is in store for Shapovalov and Coric today. Meanwhile Chung has already advanced to his first quarterfinal at Miami with a two-set whooping of Joao Sousa 6-1, 6-1. He’ll face John Isner who clipped Marin Cilic’s wings earlier today 7-5, 7-6(2). With Cilic’s departure, all three top seeds are out of the tournament, leaving Zverev the honors to bring home the hardware.
Isner, who appears to be 20 but is 32, looked like a man on a mission today against Cilic. The six-foot-nine American has had as many wins this week as he has had all season, according to the ATP. He claims his confidence resulted from his doubles title, alongside Jack Sock, in Indian Wells.
“I’m certainly feeling the best I’ve felt all year,” Isner told Tennis Channel. “I also played so well last week in Indian Wells. Lots of wins bring a lot of confidence.”
Isner’s confidence should get another boost, knowing he’ll become the top-ranked American next Monday. He faces Chung next. A battle the South Korean could win, given his rise in the rankings and his performances this year.
“I’ve played him three times,” Isner said. “Lost to him in Auckland. He was completely different this time. He’s an unbelievable player. He’s found the magic potion this year.”
Zverev and Kyrgios certainly will rock the house tonight. They are charismatic, athletic and competitive. Zverev, though, has shown more consistency over time. He travels with his family and his older brother, Mischa, who is a solid influence on Alexandr’s behavior on and off court. In interviews “Sasha” — Alexander’s nickname — seems polite, contrite and humble. Such is not the case with Kyrgios. He has drawn attention for unsportsmanlike behavior on and off court. He has been criticized by fellow players and pundits for his lack of commitment and unwillingness to put in the work off court. He’s gone through coaches like flour through a sieve. But no one faults his ability, which seems uncharacteristically intuitive for someone his age.
These two met last year in the quarterfinals of Miami. Kyrgios won in three and holds the head-to-head edge: 3-2.
If confidence influences ability then Shapovalov should be psyched to play Coric. The Canadian teen had his biggest win yesterday, holding off Sam Querrey 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. Shapovalov is the youngest in the fourth round since an 18-year-old Juan Martin del Potro in 2007. If Shapovalov gets past Coric, who is also on a high from a semi-final run in Indian Wells, then he’ll be the youngest player in a Miami quarterfinal since Nadal in 2005, who was 18 at the time.
At 2 a.m. this morning, the third round match between Tomas Berdych (No. 10) and Francis Tiafoe was suspended due to rain. They finished their match today, starting at 6-7(2), 6-2, 5-4 on Berdych’s serve. To walk out cold and find a way to win that late in a match is one of the toughest asks for any player. Tiafoe, though, prevailed for his first win over the Czech Republic native: 7-6(1) in the third. His reward? His first appearance in an ATP 1000 fourth round. Plus he has to play later today for a spot in the quarterfinals. His opponent? Kevin Anderson, U.S. Open finalist, and the sixth seed in Miami.