Indian Wells and the Miami Open have wrapped, marking the end of the Sunshine Double and the commencement of the clay-court season.
I had the pleasure of attending the Miami tournament for the entirety of the third round, catching several matches on the men’s side.
While I won’t cover all of the tournament’s surprises (I see you, Francisco Cerundolo and Misha Kecmanovic), I’ll focus on a few players I witnessed play in person and wrap up with a few stray observations.
Kyrgios Puts On A Show, Again
In Miami’s second round, Nick Kyrgios seemingly waltzed past Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-0, notching a second marquee victory of 2022 after his win against Casper Ruud at Indian Wells (both Rublev and Ruud are currently in the top 10).
Nick coasted through the first three rounds, not straying from his typical winning formula of big serve, big forehand, and opportunistic shotmaking. His first-serve percentage was the highest it’s consistently been all year, staying at or above about 75% for all three matches and peaking at an absurd 79.6% against Rublev.
For comparison, some players haven’t achieved above a 70% first serve percentage even once in the last five months. To do it three times in a row at Miami is a world-class showing. Not bad for a part-timer!
Kyrgios’ match against Fabio Fognini was routine and emblematic of the abovementioned strengths. Inside Hard Rock Stadium, crowds were drawn to his unique on-court personality first, the ever-present possibility of a tantrum second, and his gifted athleticism third.
One fan shouted, “Underarm serve!” and Kyrgios immediately went into action. The eventual downfall came in the fourth round to Jannik Sinner, which contained an outburst that I won’t dive into here but highly recommended.
I wrote in an earlier post that Kyrgios is good for tennis viewership. I noticed supporting evidence in the fluctuating Miami ticket prices for stadium matches.
Prices to see Kyrgios-Fogninii, which wasn’t an exceptionally high-quality match, were five times higher than a similar ticket to see Medvedev-Brooksby later in the tournament.
Nonetheless, for Kyrgios to get back-to-back fourth-round performances in Indian Wells and Miami is huge. This streak is the best multi-tournament stretch Kyrgios has had in years. It’s disappointing that we won’t see him participate in Paris come May.
Brooksby Battles Through RBA to Meet Medvedev
Another unseeded player who made it to the fourth round at Miami was Jenson Brooksby. After a rocky start against Federico Coria, he quickly got past Nikoloz Basilashvili for the first time in three tries.
But the fun really began when Brooksby faced Roberto Bautista-Agut in the third round, which slowly developed into one of the best matches of the entire tournament. Brooksby and RBA are at two polar ends of their tennis careers.
Jenson is 21 years old, a pimply kid who spent most of 2021 playing the qualifying rounds at tournaments. RBA is 33 years old, a father (his son sat in a shaded stroller courtside for this match), and a veteran whose career peaked when he made the semifinals of 2019 Wimbledon.
However, when these two took the court in Miami, the similarities in their games quickly overwhelmed any differences. Both Brooksby and RBA are solid and steady baseliners who strike penetrating and flatter shots and like to pull their opponents side-to-side.
They are balanced players, not strength-focused or one-dimensional. Neither player has a damaging serve, leaning instead on reliable returning and shot placement. Longer rallies populated the first and second sets, with a default pattern of trading cross-court daggers with two-handed backhands.
Like a pre-programmed robot, Brooksby can do anything with his backhand: short angle, slice, down-the-line, even inside-out (who steps around their forehand!?).
His appetite and confidence to change direction seemed greater than RBA’s, allowing Brooksby to open up space and force errors. But after coming close to producing a match point at 6-3, 5-4, Brooksby stuttered. RBA broke quickly to go up 6-5 and take the second set, continuing the streak into the third set and taking a 4-0 lead.
The match truly seemed lost, with RBA having physically outplayed Brooksby. Spectators began filtering out of the Court 1 venue to seek their next viewing experience.
But the tide took one final enormous turn as Brooksby won 6 games in a row to take the third set and the match through sheer determination and error-free play.
Brooksby was elated after the match, acknowledging and responding to comments from the crowd. “Way to fight, Jenson,” I called as he walked by me to exit the court. He wiped his face on a towel and looked up. “Thank you.”
He took a beat before referencing the overall positivity of the crowd: “Your support helped so much.” It was the kind of interaction you might only be able to have at a non-slam tournament, with someone newer to the ATP tour, someone who isn’t jaded by having iPhones in their face, someone who’s still a kid.
Brooksby lost the next day to Daniil Medvedev, starting hot in the first set before completely losing steam. He routinely hit first serves below 100 mph in the second set, which led to Medvedev routinely breaking him.
Developing his serve into a weapon to gain free points and save energy will continue to be the primary barrier to Brooksby’s rise from top 50 player to top 10 player.
Alcaraz Brings The Heat
After his third-round loss in the 2021 US Open to Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas said of his opponent, “His ball speed was incredible. I’ve never seen someone hit the ball so hard.” This year’s Miami Open produced a sequel to the Tsitsipas-Alcaraz epic, and Alcaraz’s high-octane ball striking was on display again.
While it may not have been a 5-setter this time around, the Tsitsipas-Alcaraz match delighted under the Miami lights, with Tsitsipas coming out of the gates strong before succumbing to the consistent pressure of Alcaraz.
The theme of the match was Tsitsipas’ tendency to get stuck in the backhand corner while Alcaraz comfortably ripped backhands down the line to gain leverage in the point and put Tsitsipas on the defence.
For Alcaraz, the pace of his shots, speed, and overall shotmaking proved to be his winning tools in Miami. He effortlessly turned defence into offence against Marin Cilic, Tsitsipas, and Misha Kecmanovic as he hit absurd on-the-run topspin lobs to end the point.
All of this unfolded while Juan Carlos Ferrero, Alcaraz’s coach, was absent from the tournament. Ferrero left Miami before Round 1 after learning that his father had passed away, ultimately making a surprise return for the final round and tearfully celebrating alongside Alcaraz.
On the Miami telecast, Jim Courier said, “Alcaraz is the future, but he’s also the present.” With the absence of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Miami, Alcaraz stepped in to fill the void, accelerating his ascension to the forefront of the men’s tennis world.
As Roland Garros looms on the horizon, the chatter around Alcaraz will only continue to increase in volume.
Other stray observations from Miami
- The doubles draw unfolded entertainingly. Both Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis again went deep and made the semis, only to lose to John Isner and Hubie Hurkacz. Seeing the Isner-Hurkacz tandem revealed Hurkacz’s deft hands and good instincts at the net.
- I’m not as down on the new Miami stadium venue as others. Yes, there’s a big shadow that slowly floods the court, but the temporary structure inside the Hard Rock stadium still felt full, even intimate, compared to a place like Arthur Ashe.
- To get close to the players, go to the practice courts. Sitting directly behind the players offers the opportunity to hear muttering between player and coach and see what the pros prioritize in practice. I saw Daniil Medvedev and Aslan Karatsev practising both tee and out-wide serves and down-the-line returns.
- Miami was a home tournament for Kecmanovic, a Serbian, as he moved to Florida as a teenager to train at the IMG Academy.
- Two disappointments from the tournament included Reilly Opelka bowing out early due to injury and Matteo Berrettini withdrawing due to a hand injury.
- The Grandstand Stadium is resplendent, with the sea-foam green court and the orange of the Hard Rock Stadium in the background. Tommy Paul sported an orange shirt and purple-orange shoes against Taylor Fritz, adding to the vibrant aesthetic.
What did you think of the 2022 Miami Open? Let me know in the comments.