Youth has its day, as Ruud, Sinner and Zverev reach quarter-finals

Rio Ferdinand makes admission about Man United star

Certainly there were some holes in the big Miami Open men’s draw, with the two most prolific champions missing: No1 Novak Djokovic, and No26 Roger Federer.

World No3 Rafael Nadal, with 20 wins to his name before losing the Indian Wells final, had already withdrawn before injury played its part. And No6 Matteo Berrettini also had to pull out with injury.

Then several big seeds lost earlier than expected: 13 fell in their opening matches, among them big names such as Andrey Rublev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov.

But through the gaps rose half a dozen unseeded men to join the growing number of younger players who have won Masters titles during these recent troubled years of global pandemic.

Remarkably, indeed, every one of the last 16 men standing in Miami was age 26 and under, with the eldest, Nick Kyrgios, still well short of his 27th birthday.

In fact two of the seeds were age only 20 and 18: Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. The former was already a Masters runner-up—in Miami, it so happened—but among the last 16 were no fewer than six with Masters titles, with top seed Daniil Medvedev winning four, and second seed Alexander Zverev with five.

The Miami defending champion, No8 seed Hubert Hurkacz, continued his campaign to hold on to that trophy. Last week’s Indian Wells champion, No11 seed Taylor Fritz, aimed still achieve that very rare thing, the Sunshine Double. As for Medvedev, he was still on course to reclaim the No1 ranking from the absent Djokovic if he reached the semi-finals.

Yet it was many of the non-seeds who created a real buzz this week. Kyrgios himself, twice a Major quarter-finalist as a teenager, and tipped for the very top many years ago, had never lacked outrageous talent but also an unpredictable approach to tennis and life in general.

Now, with three straight-sets wins in the bag, including a near whitewash of Rublev, he would play young Sinner, also tipped for the very top and also with two Major quarter-finals to his name.

Kyrgios was joined in the last 16 by his long-absent friend and compatriot, Thanasi Kokkinakis, who also downed a seed on his way to the fourth round. The two Aussies were also in the doubles draw after their confidence-boosting run to the Australian Open doubles title less than two months ago.

Kyrgios admitted:

“My doubles has helped me a lot on [the] singles court. The way I am serving and returning is quite a sight to see.”

However, it would be young Italian Sinner who advanced to the quarters, 7-6(3), 6-3, where he will face another of the unseeded young players, Francisco Cerundolo, ranked 103, who battled past No28 seed Frances Tiafoe, 6-7(2), 7-6(3), 6-2.

Kokkinakis, like Kyrgios, faced a first-time meeting—against Zverev. The German had already won four of nine different Masters, and was also runner-up in Miami in 2018, but the Aussie won a career-first title at the start of the year, reasserting his great abilities on a tennis court after shoulder surgery and then illness. After all, the 25-year-old reached the finals of three junior Majors back in 2013.

Another first-time meeting could determine whether Medvedev attained that No1 ranking at the end of the week. He faced Jenson Brooksby, turned just 21 and only missing out on a seeding by a couple of ranking spots in Miami.

A year ago, the American was cutting a swathe through the Challenger circuit before a couple of big runs on the main tour in North American: the final in Newport, semis in Washington, and fourth round of the US Open. From No231 a year ago, he has hardly looked back—and could prove a handful for Medvedev in front of a home crowd. In the event, the Russian took just 78 minutes to beat the American, 7-5, 6-1.

On paper, though, the two closest matches by ranking were intriguing affairs. It brought one of the most improved players of the last six months, Alcaraz, into a second meeting with No3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, having beaten the Greek in a gripping fifth-set tie-breaker at the US Open. Alcaraz went on to become the youngest man to reach the quarters of a Major since 1990.

From a ranking of 55, he had risen to 16 via two titles in Umag and Rio, and took Nadal to three sets in the Indian Wells semis. But Tsitsipas, already a Masters champion in Monte-Carlo, made the semis of the Australian Open this year before reaching the final in Rotterdam. This would be a timely measure of just where his form was ahead another clay swing.

Even closer in rankings, the first fourth-round contest was between No6 seed Casper Ruud and No10 Cam Norrie.

The Briton, who was making his first appearance in the fourth round in Miami, was on track to break the top 10 for the first time next week, but the smart Norwegian had beaten Norrie in both previous matches, and was a man to match Norrie in speed and fitness.

Ruud’s initial breakthrough came in the clay Masters, with semis in Monte-Carlo, Madrid and Rome, and six of his seven titles had come on the red stuff, but the 23-year-old’s all-court game was growing into hard courts, and that showed in Miami: He had cruised to the fourth round for the loss of only eight games.

Norrie arrived on court with a concerning quantity of strapping to his left lower leg, and Ruud took advantage of a tentative service game from the Briton in the fourth game, 3-1. The Norwegian had more break chances in the sixth game, too, as Ruud played with his chess-like tactics to the extreme of the court.

Norrie held, but Ruud went on to serve out the set, 6-3. The Briton recovered to open the second set with a love hold, but then faced 0-40 in the third game, and Ruud broke at the third time of asking. The Norwegian consolidated to lead 3-1, with Norrie not quite as sharp in his movement as usual.

Ruud built on his superior speed to break again, to love, for 5-2, but could not close it out. Norrie began to pile on the pressure through a long eighth game, finally breaking at the third attempt. And a love hold from the Briton, who clearly determined to keep points short and sharp, made Ruud attempt to serve it out again.

This time, the Norwegian did not blink, racing to a 40-0 lead, and on the third match point, Ruud aced it, 6-4, in an hour and a quarter.

The Norwegian will next play Zverev, who beat Kokkinakis, 6-4, 6-4.

Source: Sport Review


Author: Ellen Garcia