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The Young Stars Take Miami

By Vanessa Taylor and Russell Boxshall

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This year saw the third edition of the Miami Open to be played at Miami Gardens, after the tournament’s 32 year residency at Key Biscayne.

There was no Federer, who won in 2019 as the oldest champion; no Djokovic, who won in 2007 as the youngest champion; no Nadal, who has been a finalist five times but never won.

Djokovic and Nadal were usurped by the 2022 champion. Carlos Alcaraz became the youngest player to win the Miami Open and the first Spaniard.

By reaching the semis at Indian Wells this year, Alcaraz stepped up to become the second ranked Spaniard when he went to 16 in the world. In doing so, he moved past countrymen Pablo Correno Busta and Roberto Bastista Agut. After Miami, he moved further out of their reach to number 11.

Four male players withdrew from Miami – Sinner and Berrettini – or retired – Opelka and Struff.

The women’s side of the tournament suffered 15 withdrawals or retirements. Prior to the commencement of the tournament, Giorgi, Muguruza, Halep, Kenin, Kalinskaya and Muchova suffered injuries and Vondrousova was ill.

During the tournament, Garcia, Zanevska, Galfi, Siniakova, Kalinina and Badosa were injured; Tauson was ill and Azarenka retired for personal reasons.

Unfortunately for Stadium spectators who’d paid to watch the Badosa v Pegula and Sinner v Cerundolo quarter finals, both Badosa and Sinner retired at 1-4 down in their matches, meaning they saw just 10 games for their unrefundable ticket price.

Despite the loss of so many quality players and the wearying humidity, the Miami Open presented by Itaú was still a feast for tennis fans.

The Men

As the 14th seed, Alcaraz received a bye in the first round. He moved past Fucsovics, Cilic and Tsitsipas in straight sets. The Tsitsipas match featured a great rally at 1-1 with a tweener/lob combo from each player, Tsitsipas in reply to Alcaraz. Taking Tsitsipas’s lob in the air, Alcaraz sliced his trademark soft angled volley over the net for the winner and the crowd went crazy.

Alcaraz in the tweener/lob rally. Photo: TPN:Getty

In their first meeting, Kecmanovic provided a battle for the Spaniard in the quarters. Alcaraz’s speed and touch saw him get back from 0-3 down and progress to a tiebreak which he lost when a great retrieve nonetheless landed out. He lost the tiebreak to 5.

In the second set, his agility and anticipation made it difficult for Kecmanovic to hit winners and Alcaraz took it 6-3. From early in the third, Alcaraz started hitting 100kph forehands. But it was his net play that saw him level to 5-5 from 4-5 15-30 down. In the tiebreak, he was behind 3-5, then won the next four points to win the match. On match point he ran flat out and almost slid into the net to push a backhand winner down the line.

The semi-final between Alcaraz and last year’s champion Hubert Hurkacz was the sort of match for which the description “straight sets” is a disservice. Each player continually hit great winners past the other. Alcaraz’s usual drop shot winner brought up 6-5 in the tiebreak and his return to his opponent’s feet saw Hurkacz flick the ball up into net to give up the set.

The second set was even too. At 5-5 30-30 came a rally with a great variety of shots which Hubert eventually won by camping at the net and volleying behind his opponent. Alcaraz used the same angled drop shot winner as he had in the first set to be the first to six in this second tiebreak and converted his first match point. Alcaraz 6-7(5) 6-7(2) in just over two hours.

Some might have wondered if Alcaraz had already played his final in his semi.

Casper Ruud at South Florida Stadium. Photo: AP

Sixth seed Casper Ruud’s route to the final also started with a bye and three consecutive straight set matches – over Henri Laaksonen, Alexander Bublik and Cameron Norrie – on his way to the quarters. There he met Alexander Zverev.

Zverev was sluggish early and Ruud won the first set 6-3 in just over half an hour. It was the first time he’d managed to take a set off Zverev. Despite his slow start, Zverev broke first in the second set then raced off to 6-1. At this point, Ruud called for the trainer. It worked. He went ahead in the third and won it 6-3 with an ace.

Ruud also aced on match point in his routine 6-4 6-1 victory against Francisco Cerondolo. So, Ruud met Alcaraz in the final.

Alcaraz made an erratic start as Ruud pushed him way out of court into the corners and went up 3-0. Alcaraz got his drop shot working to win his first game. He then got a break point on his next game when he lunged to put up a lob that Ruud decided to let fly over and then rued his decision when it landed well in. Ruud used his massive forehand to save the game and go 4-1. He had increased the speed of his topspin forehand to 91 mph for the final.

Alcaraz worked back to 3-4 and at 30-0, after his first serve was a fault, he noticed the next ball he was given was flat. After chair umpire Aurélie Tourte checked and replaced it, she announced a second serve. Ruud seemed unsure about that. So Tourte added “but if you guys want to play a first, it’s fine…that’s up to you.” Ruud graciously offered Alcaraz another first serve. He was rewarded by winning the point.

Aurélie Tourte explaining to the players that they can choose which serve it is. Photo: Hoo-Me/SMG

A long opening game in the second set, with four deuces, saw Alcaraz break to have won seven of the last eight games. With a running forehand winner cross court he broke again for 3-0. Ruud got one break back.

The next three games, the serve took over with the server winning 12 of the 13 points. 4-3 to Alcaraz. Ruud played boldly but Alcaraz held for 5-3. Ruud then held serve with brilliant play for 4-5.

But Alcaraz calmly served out his championship game to love, with a flowing serve and volley on match point. He had played 11 serve and volley points in the match and won them all.

The champion had the support of the largely Spanish-speaking Miami crowd all week and they let him know they were thrilled with his 7-5 6-4 win.

“I felt like I was home from the first minute I began playing,” Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz making another difficult shot. Photo: Hoo-Me/SMG

Winning the Miami Open meant that his third career title was a Masters 1000. “Well, I think when I win the last point, I mean, all the time that I dream of it came to my mind. You know, when I was younger, I dreamed to get Masters 1000. Yeah, when I fall onto the floor [ground], I remembered that. I mean, all the dreams, all the hard work, all the training, all the troubles, everything came to my mind in that moment.”

Talking point player

Wildcard Nick Kyrgios started the tournament playing brilliantly despite a dodgy knee. At 1-1 in his opening match against Adrian Mannarino, he appeared to limp slightly. At 2-2 he called the trainer and rated the pain level as an eight out of 10. A soothing cream was rubbed into the area and he continued. Shortly after, he grazed his hand against the back boarding of the court and had to pause to clean the blood away.

At 2-1 in the tiebreak, Kyrgios hit a cross court return that left even him open mouthed in awe with its angle. It became an instant YouTube hit.

But then he began complaining about crowd noise and at 3-4 40-15 stopped his first serve motion due to noise. Further noise caused him to fault. Having complained to the umpire again, he was told “It’s still a second serve”. He complained about that, then double-faulted. But he still won the game. And won the match.

“The court difference from here to Indian Wells is dramatic and obviously the conditions tonight playing Adrian, someone who keeps the ball so low and hits the ball so flat, I felt myself bending for balls that I usually don’t bend for,” he said.  

“The conditions tonight did not help me at all. I wasn’t able to get him out of his comfort zone from the ground.” He added that it was hard to play the late match and keep up his motivation through the day.

Despite his reservations, Kyrgios hit 33 winners and landed 75% of his first serves. He signed off with “Be positive” on the camera lens.

Nick Kyrgios playing Andrey Rublev. Photo: Media Punch

Kyrgios had expressed confidence about his next match, against Andrey Rublev. They had last played at the 2019 US Open where Rublev won in straight sets. But in Miami, Kyrgios was at his best, not allowing his opponent a game in the second set for a 6-3 6-0 victory.

He was also untroubled by his third round opponent Fabio Fognini, winning 85% of his first service points and the match 6-2 6-4.

Unfortunately, just a couple of days later, Kyrgios lost his cool and his focus. He was playing 9th seed Jannick Sinner, who was leading 4-4 40-15 in the first set, when a voice on umpire Carlos Bernardes’s radio suddenly penetrated play. As a consequence, Bernardes instructed “Play a let”.

Kyrgios was furious, “You should be fired on the spot…How is that possible?…A fourth round on Miami, one of the biggest tournaments.”

The set went to a tiebreak and at 1-2 Kyrgios hit wide and smashed his racquet on the court. At 2-4, he double faulted. Between points he continued to criticise Bernardes to his team and was penalised a point for unsportsmanlike conduct, meaning that the tiebreak score of 3-6 became 3-7 for Kyrgios to lose the set.

He stood a couple of metres in front of Sinner’s chair and demanded several times of Bernardes, “What’s unsportsmanlike?” He then walked over to his chair and smashed his racquet on his bags and on the court. Sinner, sitting in his chair, did not even turn his head to look. That outburst incurred a game penalty so that Sinner was ahead in the second set without hitting a ball.

Nick Kyrgios takes time out from the second set to pose. Photo: Getty

To add to the surreality, Kyrgios posed for a selfie with a fan who had somehow run onto the court. Although the second set featured some superb net play from Kyrgios it wasn’t enough and Sinner won the match 7-6 6-3.

At his press conference, Kyrgios continued to criticise Carlos Bernardes, rating him “1 out of 10 today” and offered “I got frustrated. Can I not get frustrated?”

One of the Kyrgios tweets after the Sinner match. Source: Twitter

The Doubles

Wildcard team Hubert Hurkacz and John Isner won the doubles title, beating on the way top teams Ram / Salisbury and Kyrgios / Kokkinakis. Both the Australians also made it to the round of 16 in the singles.

In the final, Hurkacz / Isner faced Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski who teamed their wardrobe in hot pink shorts. The close match featured many exciting four-player rallies but Hurkacz / Isner won 7-6 6-4.

For Isner, the victory meant a Sunshine Double as he had won Indian Wells with Jack Sock.

A number of comments on social media followed along the lines of the old John McEnroe riddle: Who’s the best doubles team? John McEnroe and Peter Fleming. Who’s the second best doubles team? John McEnroe and anybody. McEnroe was replaced in the comments by Isner.

Hubert Hurkacz and John Isner winning their first trophy together.
Photo: USTA/Getty

The Women

The trajectory of the women’s event brought Naomi Osaka and Iga Świątek together for the final.

Ranked 77, unseeded and recipient of a wildcard in Miami, Osaka played her first round match against Australian Astra Sharma. She got through 6-3 6-4 to then face 13th seed Angelique Kerber, who had received a bye in the first round. In a match of two former world number ones Osaka took just one hour to win 6-2 6-3. She hit six aces, despite serving at only 53% of first serves, and won 32 winners to seven.

Next up Osaka was expecting to play Karolína Muchová who had beaten Czech compatriot Tereza Martincova in the first round. Muchová followed up by ousting 18th seed Leylah Fernandez, with her more effective first serve giving her the edge. But now she gave Osaka a walkover. Muchová tweeted that “After a long break from tennis, 2 tough matches in row have been a lot for my body and I need longer to recover.”

Naomi Osaka began the tournament in great form.
Photo: Matthew Stockman

A fresh Osaka then faced Alison Riske, who had beaten Garbiñe Muguruza at Indian Wells. Riske declared she was not scared of playing Osaka, with whom she had a head to head of 1-1.

“I think that’s the beauty of the tour right now, anyone can win”, Riske said. “That’s an awesome thing to be a part of and I think if I keep bringing my game but more importantly my mentality, anything can happen. I’m really looking forward to it.”

In Osaka’s presser before the match, she told the Japanese media that she’d received serving help from Nick Kyrgios. They had bonded at the US Open through talking about the mental pressures of the game. Just prior to Indian Wells, while they were both in LA, he showed her how to bring her back foot up on her serve to create more power.

Nonetheless, Riske had four break points on Osaka’s first service game as the 10 minute game went through six deuces before Osaka held.

It took another six deuces at 5-2 for Riske to win her third game, but Osaka took the set 6-3 in a gruelling game, with her sixth set point. Perhaps a sense of anti-climax saw Osaka go down 0-2 in the second set, but she managed to fight back to take the set 6-4. Both players hit few unforced errors but Osaka hit a mighty 40 winners to 17, while also playing brilliant defence. 

Osaka’s quarter-final was against Danielle Collins, playing her home state tournament. Currently, the top-ranked US player and seeded 9, Collins had played only one match since making the final of the Australian Open, due to a viral illness. That match was in Dubai and after leading 6-2, Collins became dizzy and retired.

In her third round match in Miami, she received treatment on her neck in the second set but beat Vera Zvonareva 6-1 6-4. Still, her neck was too sore for her to hit the customary signed tennis balls into the crowd and she had to enlist a TV production assistant to throw them.

Danielle Collins wipes away tears of pain as she receives treatment.
Photo: Gary I. Rothstein

Collins must have received expert physiotherapy on her neck as against Ons Jabeur she clobbered winners all over the court, from the net and the baseline. In winning 6-2 6-4, she moved up one position and took over Jabeur’s number 10 ranking. Jabeur made too many unforced errors though her brilliant mid-air tweener at 3-3 in the second set was a highlight of the tournament.

Whatever magic pushed her through the Jabeur match wore off when Collins met Osaka. Her neck injury even forced her to serve underarm a few times in the final game. There was no attempt to disguise what she was about to do, it was not a tactic but an act of resignation. Osaka won 6-1 6-2.  

So Osaka made the semis in Miami for the first time, to play Belinda Bencic. Their head to head was 4-1 to Bencic, who had won the last four in a row. But Bencic hadn’t made a semi since June 2021 at the BettiOpen grass championships in Berlin. She had lost her last seven quarter-finals, six of them in straight sets.

It seemed that Bencic surprised Osaka. She went up 4-1 before Osaka got a break back for 2-4. Bencic held onto that lead for 6-4. The players exchanged breaks in the second set though Osaka claimed it 6-3. The big difference was that Osaka improved her second serve wins from 18% in the first set to 63%.

She went out to 5-2 in a tough third set but Bencic didn’t let her serve it out and Osaka found herself trying again at 5-4. This time she succeeded. Osaka served 18 aces for the match, more than any other WTA player this season.  

Bencic was a formidable opponent and after the match, Osaka cried relieved tears into her towel.

Belinda Bencic taking it to Osaka. Photo: Michael Greaves

Iga Świątek’s first match was an easy 6-2 6-0 victory over Swiss Viktorija Golubic but notable as it landed her at number one in the world, also courtesy of Ash Barty’s retirement.

“I don’t really know how that feels exactly,” she said, “because I have never been a No. 1. We are going to have to see and, you know, react, probably. But I feel right now pretty good. I always had a kind of ease to cut off the rankings and the numbers and just focus on playing.

“This season I have much more joy from being on court and playing and competing, so I think if I’m going to keep up with the same attitude, it’s going to be fine.”

Tournament director James Blake and guest Lindsay Davenport presented Świątek with a bouquet of flowers to celebrate her achievement.

James Blake, Iga Świątek and LIndsay Davenport. Photo: Miami Open

Madison Brengle, Coco Gauff, Petra Kvitova and Jessica Pegula all fell to Świątek in straight sets. Pegula had looked puzzled as to what to do, but she fared best; she managed to get five games in a set, two more than the others. Świątek was relentless.

Osaka started the final with an ace. That first game had seven deuces and took 11 minutes for Osaka to win it.

Świątek broke for 3-2 and it was enough momentum for her to take set 6-4. Osaka had hit seven aces to zero, 57% first serves to 39%; 14 winners to 10. But on the flip side, she made 20 errors and created no break points.

Świątek broke first game in the second set and played like a fiend, sneakers squealing as she slid around the court, to take it 6-0 in 26 minutes.

Osaka looked shell-shocked but asked for her initial reflections on the match, she said, “I thought first set was pretty close, but I think throughout the match I just couldn’t really figure out what to do on her second serve. I didn’t really know if I should go forward or go back. I think this is something I probably should have decided before the match.

“But other than that, I thought it was kind of cool to see her movement up close. Yeah, all in all, I mean, it was a sad outcome but it was a fun day.”

In her finalist’s speech, Osaka addressed Świątek warmly and reminded her of their dinner together in Melbourne. As they posed for photos with their arms around each other, Osaka helped Świątek untangle herself from the celebratory streamers.

Iga Świątek soaks in her victory. Photo: Yaroslav Sabitov

Świątek became the fourth woman to complete the Sunshine Double, and the youngest, and the first since Serena Williams nine years ago to win three straight WTA 1000s.

No wonder she described herself as “super tired, really”, before adding, “These weeks are so intense I didn’t know if I’m going to be able to keep up with the streak that I have.

“It’s amazing for me that I could show mental toughness. My whole life I thought I can do more and sometimes losing I didn’t even know why and right now I feel like everything clicked.

“I think I was approaching her second serves pretty well to pressure her. But even though I played so many matches, physically I feel I can run to every ball.”

A contingent of Polish fans wearing prophetic Sunshine Double 2022 T-shirts cheered Świątek on throughout the tournament. After completing the Sunshine Double, she described their support as “really heartwarming”.

Talking point player

The 12th seed Victoria Azarenka started her campaign in the round of 64. She had a tighter than may have been expected match with Ekaterina Alexandrova which she won 7-5 in a third set tiebreak.

In her next match against Linda Fruhvirtova, something seemed not quite right from the beginning. Azarenka was not running well to the ball, often just lunging and swiping at it.

Victoria Azarenka playing Linda Fruhvirtova. Photo: AFP

During the match, Azarenka could be heard several times asking her coach, “Why am I here?” The point before Azarenka retired she had made a cut throat gesture to her coach.

After losing the first set 2-6 and hitting a backhand way out to go down 0-3 in the second, Azarenka told umpire Cecilia Alberti “I want to stop” three times as she walked to her chair. Alberti said she would call the physio and announced the score, but Azarenka had meant stop the match.

She quickly gathered her gear and shook hands with Alberti and a stunned Fruhvirtova as she walked off. Alberti called after her, “Vika, we need to wait”. But Azarenka did not respond.

She later posted on Instagram: “I shouldn’t have gone on the court today.

“The last few weeks have been extremely stressful in my personal life. Last match took a lot out of me, but I wanted to play in front of a great audience as they helped me through my first match.

“I wanted to go out there and try, but it was a mistake.”

The Doubles

Unseeded pair Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva upset top seed Veronika Kudermetova and Elise Mertens to win the Women’s Doubles championship 7-6(3) 7-5 in 111 minutes.

To make the final, Kudermetova / Mertens had to win match tiebreaks in their previous three rounds. Siegemund / Zvonareva had the same task in their previous two rounds. Crucially, they saved five match points in their semi against Ekaterina Alexandrova and Yang Zhaoxuan, fighting back from 4-9 down in the match tiebreak before taking it 13-11.

Although unseeded in this event, Siegemund and Zvonareva won the 2020 US Open in their debut as a team. Most recently, they won a WTA 250 in Lyon in March.

Laura Siegemund and Vera Zvonareva with their trophy.
Photo: WTA/Jimmie48

In Miami, they took the first set 7-6(3). Zvonareva’s service was broken in the first game of the second set, but Siegemund’s intensity revived the team to win the last four games of the match, 7-5.

Afterwards, Zvonareva said, “I thought they started very strong. They were playing very powerful serves and returns, and I felt like we were a little bit on the back foot…

“We tried to support each other, we were able to change a couple of things up so we could be a little bit more aggressive at the net as well, and I think overall it helped us. I think we had a great spirit, and we were able to keep the momentum.”

 

 

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