By Jane Voigt
March 26, 2018 — If you’re a big-name tennis fan, this Miami Open might not be for you.
Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, the top two seeds in singles, have packed up and left Key Biscayne. American favorite Madison Keys (No. 14) lost in her opener to wild-card and three-time Miami champion, Victoria Azarenka. Unseeded Serena Williams — an 8-time champion — lost in her opener to Indian Wells winner Naomi Osaka. And earlier today, Garbine Muguruza (No. 3) couldn’t mount a real threat against the current U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, losing 6-3, 6-4.
Defending champion Roger Federer, and top seed, lost in his first match to Thanasi Kokkinakis, a qualifier ranked No. 175. The shocking upset made him the lowest ranked player ever to beat a number-one player. Federer fell to No. 2 in the ATP rankings behind Rafael Nadal today, as a result of his loss.
“I deserve it after this match,” Federer told the press, when asked how he felt about losing his top ranking. “That’s how I feel. Just so bad.”
Grigor Dimitrov (No. 3) is also out, losing in straight sets to the unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy. And, as had happened in Indian Wells last week, six-time Miami Open champion Novak Djokovic (No. 9) lost first round (had a bye in round one) 6-3, 6-4, to unseeded Benoit Paire.
“I’m trying, but it’s not working,” Djokovic said, after his loss. “Of course I want to be able to play as well as I want to play. Just it’s impossible at the moment. That’s all.”
With Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal missing in action at the Miami Open, not one Big Four player will vie for the title Sunday, making Andy Roddick the last man outside that foursome to have won title in 2010.
Perhaps the exodus of top players is part of an inexplicable plan because, as we know but may not want to realize, the Miami Open will close its doors on this picturesque tropical setting at Crandon Park next Sunday and rise at Hard Rock Stadium home of the Miami Dolphins, an environment surrounded by concrete, next year.
In that context all the early losses can make more sense. Perhaps they’re leading an exodus bound for a future Miami Open where more courts, parking, fan facilities and seating will revive this faltering tournament, which used to surpass the BNP Paribas Open in attendance and prestige.
And perhaps spring, which blew in days ago, has continued the dismantling of an order we have come to expect but that cannot sustain itself due to aging players, the continuing and constant schedule of tournaments, and the upward push of younger, eager players who now see their chance to breakthrough.
One certainly has to be Kokkinakis. He has been in and out of the game due to injuries and even considered retirement last year, at the young age of 21.
“It feels good,” Kokkinakis said about his win over Federer. “Any match feels good to win, especially now where I am in my sort of comeback and trying to play some matches. To share the court, have such a big win on a big court against the world No. 1, it’s pretty crazy.”
As much as the Aussie wanted to carry on in Miami, he lost today to veteran lefty Fernando Verdasco (No. 31) 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in a three-hour thriller.
Twenty-year-old American Francis Tiafoe advanced to the second round, after a three-set marathon against Argentine Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 7-6(4). Usually matches are not won or lost around one point, but a 29-shot rally late in the second saved the set and invigorated Tiafoe to fight to the finish. On Saturday, the Tiafoe took down Kyle Edmund (No. 21) 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(5).
“It’s huge. It’s everything,” Tiafoe said, when asked about his confidence now. “Delray taught me a lot. I beat some quality players back-to-back, which I’ve never done. I’ve played so many matches in my career so far where I played and came up just short. Now I’m feeling really comfortable when it gets tight. I actually embrace it. I want it.”
Tiafoe won his first ATP career title earlier this year in Delray. Later today, he plays the tenth seed Tomas Berdych.
When one door closes another opens, so the saying goes. Keep your eyes on Alexandr Zverev (No. 4). The German, who has had a dismal start to the season, is the youngest top-ten player. He shares a section of the draw with Nick Kyrgios (No. 17), teen Denis Shapovalov, twenty-one-year-old Borna Coric (No. 29) who lost a closely fought match to Federer in the semifinals of Indian Wells, and Jack Sock, the top American who is seeded number eight.
On the women’s side, keep tabs on the reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko (No. 6), Ashleigh Barty (No. 21), and N.C.A.A. champion and University of Virginia graduate Danielle Collins who knocked off CoCo Vandeweghe (No. 16) and an inspired Donna Vekic, finding herself in the fourth round of a Premier WTA tournament for the second time in two weeks. Finally, Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig, who defeated Wozniacki, has found inspiration from fans — she is originally from Puerto Rico — and will test her reinvigorated confidence against Collins for a spot in the quarterfinals today.
One last word … Venus. The three-time Miami champion (1998, 1999, 2001) moved to fourth round for the fifteenth time, edging Kiki Bertens. Williams saved a match point, had been up 5-0 in the first, and rallied from 1-4 down in the third to win 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. But coming from behind and fighting to the finish is Venus. She’ll head to the quarterfinals if she can defeat defending champion Johanna Konta tomorrow.
The 37-year-old legend, whose lives in Miami Gardens, was asked after her Bertens’ win if fans helped her win.
“They were definitely on my side,” Venus said, smiling. “It’s great to play at home and enjoy the support.”