By the end of the opening day of action by the seeds in the women’s draw at the Miami Open, there had been a mass exodus of some of the biggest names in tennis.
Denied the presence of defending champion and world No1 Ash Barty, who had already withdrawn from Miami before announcing her retirement this week, the tournament saw top seed Aryna Sabalenka, No3 seed Anett Kontaveit, No6 seed Karolina Pliskova, No11 seed Emma Raducanu, No13 seed Angelique Kerber and No15 seed Elina Svitolina follow their first-round byes with an opening loss.
Five more of the lower-ranked seeds also lost their opening matches, and all that on top of the withdrawal with injury of world No4 Barbora Krejcikova, No7 seed Garbine Muguruza, No23 seed Simona Halep, and the struggling 2020 Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin.
It all opened the door beautifully for the Indian Wells champion Iga Swiatek. The Pole rose to No2 after winning two straight WTA1000s, and also rose to the top of the Race, but with Barty removing herself from the rankings when the new points are added after Miami, Swiatek can become the new No1—at age 20.
Only one remaining player in the draw can stop her, world No6 Paula Badosa, and then only if Swiatek joins all those other seeds in an opening loss. And even if Swiatek does not beat Viktorija Golubic, Badosa still has to win the title to overtake her rival.
So by the time the bottom half of the draw had played out late on Friday, Swiatek looked a shoo-in for that iconic achievement.
And on the men’s side, too, there could be another changing of the guard at the top of the ranks. Daniil Medvedev broke through the glass ceiling to claim the top spot from Novak Djokovic last month, but only for three weeks. For the man who has the record for weeks at the top reclaimed the No1 last week, despite still being absent from the tour due to Covid travel regulations in the USA.
However, Medvedev again has the chance to overtake Djokovic if he reaches the Miami semi-finals for the first time in his fourth appearance.
That Rafael Nadal, up to No3 this week, and Matteo Berrettini, seeded No4, are also absent with injury in Miami, made Medvedev’s campaign looked a promising one, except that the draw decreed a certain two-time former champion, Andy Murray, should face the Russian in his opening match.
Murray, playing with a wild card, has made steady but slow progress up the ranks in his long fight back to the upper level of the sport following repeated hip surgery, Covid infection, groin injury and more, and while he started the year with a final run in Sydney, he had yet to win two matches in a row since.
Having won his opener against Federico Delbonis, now he would have to try again against the top seed, with Medvedev—one of the Russian and Belarusian players to play without a national flag—seeking his first title of the year after launching his season with strong performances at the ATP Cup and Australian Open.
In this same quarter is also one of the two British seeded men, No24 Dan Evans, who would play the 96-ranked Japanese player, Yoshihito Nishioka, who it so happens has beaten Evans in all three previous matches. The Briton has faced some tough early opposition at almost every tournament this season, not least Andrey Rublev in the first round of Dubai and then Nadal in his second match in Indian Wells.
The 31-year-old Briton was certainly owed a bit of luck, but this was, again, a tough section, with Denis Shapovalov his first seed, then, either Aslan Karatsev or Hubert Hurkacz.
Like Murray, he was scheduled to get under way on Saturday, but the highest ranked Briton in the men’s or women’s draw is No10 seed Cameron Norrie, who put together such as ground-breaking season in 2021 to win his first Masters in Indian Wells and then play at the ATP Finals.
Currently at a career-high No12, he started 2022 with some of that same form, winning Delray Beach, losing to Nadal in the final of Acapulco, and making the quarters in Indian Wells.
He won his first matches in Miami last year to reach the third round, and so was in a fine position, 12 months on, to break the top 10 for the first time.
Unfortunately for British fans, his first hurdle was the tall 20-year-old Briton, Jack Draper, ranked 146, and a man on the rise courtesy of a big leftie game with plenty of variety and touch.
He was awarded a wild card for Miami, boosted not a little by a stunning run on the Challenger circuit this season: No fewer than three titles on the Italian hard-court circuit. In Miami, he seized his opportunity with both hands, winning his opener against the experienced Gilles Simon, and he would show all his improving athleticism and fitness against compatriot Norrie.
But the smartness, endurance, and speed of fellow leftie Norrie was a tough nut to crack. The older Briton broke to take a 4-2 lead, helped by a couple of wayward errors on the Draper forehand. But serving for the set, Norrie wavered and Draper took advantage, saving one set point and winning three straight points to break back.
The youngster had to battle through deuce to take it to a tie-break, where he continued to have Norrie under pressure, and he saved two set points. But ultimately, Norrie sealed the deal, 7-6(5), after a gruelling 69 minutes.
This was becoming a big test of the younger Briton’s fitness and endurance in the punishing Miami conditions, but he had Norrie under huge pressure on serve in the second game of the second set.
But with a resilient hold, Norrie went on to break in the seventh game, and held through another long game for 5-3. He served it out, 6-4, after more than two hours.
Despite the loss, Draper stays in the hunt for a place at the NextGen Finals in Milan in November: He currently sits in third place.
Norrie will next play Hugo Gaston, who beat 2018 champion John Isner, in a section topped by Casper Ruud, and in a quarter headed by No2 seed Alexander Zverev.
The German faced Borna Coric, after the young Croatian earned his first tour-level win in over a year against Fernando Verdasco. The 25-year-old missed the majority of last season through injury that required shoulder surgery.
Source: Sport Review