Day 1 – March 21, 2016
Within hours of arriving from New York City, I was already standing at the gates of the Miami Open to watch first round action from the men’s and women’s qualifying competitions. Because the qualifying days are some of the most poorly attended of the tournament (though there was not a bad turnout this year), it is not uncommon to see players hanging out/eating lunch around the grounds. This is one of the reasons why Days 1 and 2 are some of my favorite of the whole event. This is also the case because it gives me the opportunity to watch/cheer-on some of my favorite lower ranked players.
The Venue – This year sees the placement of additional seating on the outermost courts (courts 8, 9, 10), this seating also includes new player boxes. Also, the reshuffling of stores has allowed for three new practice courts (courts 15, 16, and 17). While the tournament is improving, the fact that it cannot add any permanent structures to the grounds (restaurant, stadiums, locker room) – due to regulations set by the owner of the land – means that it has been left in the dust of major tournaments like Indian Wells and Cincinnati.
The Matches –
I started my afternoon – I arrived at the tournament roughly about 2 o’clock – on court 6 watching the match between Kurumi Nara and Sorana Cirstea. The first thing I noticed was that “Sori” has switched from wearing adidas clothing to new balance, something that did not deter Darren Cahill (former leader of the Addidas Development Program) from cheering her on from the stands.
The match was one of typical Cirstea fashion – flashes of brilliance followed by streaks of unforced errors. Even with her frustrating style of play, it’s good to have Sorana back on tour. I don’t remember if this had been the case before her shoulder issues, but it seems Sorana’s backhand is far superior to the forehand side. I also feel like Babolat is not the right brand for her, as it seems like she is muscling the ball rather than hitting through it. Either way, the match-up proved to be devastating for Nara. While Kurumi is definitely the smarter player of the two, she spent most of the match on the back foot due to Cirstea’s flat/powerful strokes. The Romanian wildcard eventually winning the match 7 – 5, 7 – 5.
This result should be devastating to Nara fans for a couple reasons.
A – Kurumi is far too good a player to be losing in qualifying – but got a bad draw.
B – Miami was a good opportunity for Nara to build on confidence from her performance at Indian Wells (especially the win over Venus Williams)
C – She was defending points from last year’s third round.
However, Cirstea has had an impressive season (1 ITF Title, and Semifinalist at the Rio Open) – If she keeps playing like this she will undoubtedly return to the Top 75.
The next match I watched was between Noah Rubin and Mirza Basic. I found this match particularly interesting as Rubin had been on my 8 AM flight from New York, and had little to no time to adjust to the conditions in Miami. Contrary to how I had thought the match would play out, Rubin dominated. From the beginning he immediately broke the serve of his higher ranked opponent and never looked back. Though Rubin played solid tennis – and sometimes showed impressive defense – the narrative of the first set was one of Basic’s basic errors. Though I left after the first set, I’d imagine the second was more of the same as Rubin won 6 – 2, 6 -2.
Court 10 was the site of the next match, with Jana Cepelova taking of Evgeniya Rodina. I’ve been a fan of Cepelova since her junior days (specifically the 2010 Singapore YOG), and am hoping that she can recapture the form she showed in Charleston two years ago on a consistent basis. The first set of the match was incredibly unstable: Cepelova raced out to a 2-0 lead, Rodina won the next five games (5 – 2), and then Jana bounced back to run away with the set (7 – 5). It seems that Cepelova has enough talent to allow her to progress far into the top 100 but struggles with knowing how to use it. She periodically goes through fits of unforced errors and poorly timed drop shots, but then other times is working the angles of the court to perfection. The glaring weakness in her game is the serve, as she only offers up a slice.
This inconsistency in her game offers a pretty good explanation to the year that Jana has had, as she has qualified at some big events (Doha, Dubai, Brisbane) but then failed to get past the first hurdle at events like Kuala Lumpur and San Antonio. Rodina’s season has been horrendous, as she boosts a 1 – 8 record. This lack of confidence was evident throughout the match, as she became very vocal/flustered after falling behind. In order to reap in the benefits of her defensive playing style, Rodina will need to increase her fitness. Cepelova won the match 7 – 5, 6 – 4.
Looking for a fresh face, I headed to Court 9 to watch Tatsuma Ito against Casper Ruud. Ruud is a seventeen-year-old from Norway who is based out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida). Ruud’s game has a lot of potential, he uses an extreme grip on the forehand which seemed to collapse under pressure, but offers up a lot of spin/bite on both groundstrokes. While he is steady from the baseline, he will need to increase both his first serve percentages and speed if he wants to seriously compete on the ATP Level. Striking up a conversation with the man sitting next to me (who’s son practices with Ruud at Bollettieri), I learned that Ruud apparently favors coming into the net rather than staying at the baseline. This is something that both the man and I thought would help the teenager make inroads on Ito, who is much solider from the baseline. Though I left after the first set, I was happy to see that Ruud pushed the match to a decider before eventually losing 4 -6, 7 – 6, 1 – 6.
I caught the very tail end of two other matches before calling it a day. The first of these was on Court 4 between Magda Linette and Tamira Paszek. The one game I watched saw Linette hit three winners and an ace, impressive for a player I consider(ed?) to have limited offensive capabilities. It was a little disheartening to see Tamira look so defeated. After her semifinal appearance in Auckland I had high expectations for her 2016 season, which have unfortunately fallen a little flat. Good win for Magda though, she took it 6 – 4, 6 – 2.
Up last was the battle between Pauline Parmentier and Alison Riske. Riske has become one of my favorite tour players over the last couple years – she just seems like such a genuinely nice person. After having gone up 6 – 5 in the third, it seemed Ali had a clear path to serve for the match. However this game was riddled with mistakes, as Riske made two unforced errors and two double faults. This came as a surprise for me as Riske’s season – while not stable – has produced some good results (Final in Shenzhen, Semifinal in San Antonio) and there is no reason for her to be struggling with confidence. Regardless, it wasn’t to be, Parmentier played a solid tiebreak and went on to win the match 2 – 6, 7 – 5, 7 – 6.
Seen on the Practice Courts – I think it is interesting to see which players are hitting with each other on the practice courts. I consider it a way of knowing who are friendly with each other on tour. Below I have compiled a list of who I saw practicing:
Stadium Court – Dominic Thiem and Dusan Lajovic
Grandstand Court – Roberto Bautista Agut and Alberto Ramos Vinolas
Court 11 – Marin Cilic and Lukas Rosol, Kyle Edmund
Court 12 – Timea Bacsinszky and Lucie Safarova, Pablo Cuevas
Court 13 – Madison Keys and Roberta Vinci, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis, Daria Kasatkina (playing soccer)
Court 15 – Nicolas Mahut
Court 18 – Nicole Gibbs and Cici Bellis, Naomi Osaka and Nao Hibino, Anna Lena Friedsam and Vania King
Court 19 – Misaki Doi, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Danka Kovinic
That’s all from my half-day at the Miami Open. Hopefully I’ll have the energy to blog over the entire tournament. Also, I have some pictures but the quality of the camera on my phone is pretty abysmal, so I decided it’s not worth the time to upload them.
Until next time, Jake.