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Miami Masters 2017 Draw analysis: Could we see another Fedal final?

In the absence of both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who will take up the mantle in Miami?

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 15:  Roger Federer of Switzerland shakes hands at the net after his straight sets victory against Rafael Nadal of Spain in their fourth round match during day ten of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 15, 2017 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Federer and Nadal are in opposite halves at Miami and could set up another final

The 2017 Miami Masters has perhaps one of the sparsest draws of a Masters tournaments in the past decade in terms of top seeds, with both World No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic sitting out the tournament. 

Top seeds missing

No. 1 Andy Murray has revealed he is suffering from an elbow injury that renders him unable to play at the Miami Masters. Only weeks ago, Murray crashed out in a second-round loss to Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells – as did No. 2 Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic also sits out Miami this year with a similar elbow injury, and yesterday issued an apology to fans who had queued up for tickets to watch him play. 
"My doctor has strongly advised against play because my elbow injury, that I keep carrying on for months, got worse in the past week," he said.

The Serb, who was the defending champion at Indian Wells, saw a pre-quarterfinal straight sets loss to Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, continuing a run of poor form since the latter half of the 2016 season. 

As Djokovic is also the reigning champion at Miami, he will lose the 1,000 points he won here last year, broadening Andy Murray’s lead in the rankings. 

Top players in action

As a result of the top two withdrawing, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, who played Roger Federer at the Indian Wells finals, will be the top seed. That cannot be repeated here, however, with top seed Wawrinka in the same half as No. 3 seed Federer. 

First Quarter: Stan Wawrinka is the top seed!

Top seed Stan Wawrinka headlines the draw – and his quarter, and as a result has an easy beginning into Miami, especially considering his form. The Swiss ace will face an easy early couple of rounds, but could meet one of two potential threts in Round three in the form of Alexandr Dolgopolov or Feliciano Lopez. 

Dolgopolov in particular will worry Wawrinka, given the Ukrainian World No. 67 leads the pair’s head-to-head record 2-1. Interestingly, the last time the two players met was also at the Miami Masters, but in 2014, with Dolgopolov emerging the victor. 

He could also face Spain’s Feliciano Lopez. 36th – ranked Lopez has also been a thorn in the side of his Swiss rival, and even in his losses has pushed Wawrinka to the brink in putting up a fight. He will still be less of a threat than Dolgopolov here, we feel, and so it is the tall Ukrainian ace that Wawrinka will want to be wary of on the court. 

Also in this quarter is Alexander Zverev, seeded 16th at the tournament. The German, who has taken multiple defeats over Roger Federer, should have it easy until Round 3, where he faces big server John Isner, who is seeded 18th here. But with Zverev’s form of late, the young player will not be very worried given his own booming serve and powerful groundstrokes. 

Another player to look out for in this quarter is the 12th seeded Nick Kyrgios. Although he has become more known perhaps for his antics on the court than his spectacular gameplay, the talented Kyrgios has punched in a series of excellent performances this year, and in the past fortnight twice ousted World No. 2 Novak Djokovic from their respective tournaments – in straight sets, most recently at Indian Wells. 

Setting up a quarter-final against his idol Roger Federer at Indian Wells, Kyrgios suffered a bout of food poisoning only hours before the match. He is on an excellent run of form, so in the spirit of tennis, the young player hopefully remains seriously unaffected by any lingering symptoms. 

Kyrgios won’t have it entirely easy here, facing ace machine Ivo Karlovic, seeded 17, in Round 3; he could face either of two daunting competitors, Spain's David Ferrer (27) or No. 8 David Goffin, the tougher of the two opponents, in Round 4. While in excellent form and playing both athletic and strategic tennis, Kyrgios’ motivation remains patchy at best, so if he is able to overcome that obstacle, he could well find himself in the quarter-finals. 

That quarter-final, should it happen, will see an old rivalry reignited – that between Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios; the two share bad blood, with Wawrinka on the receiving end of perhaps Kyrgios’ worst on-court behaviour to date at the 2015 Montreal Masters, where the Australian aimed some extremely derogatory slurs at tennis player Donna Vekic, Wawrinka’s partner. Although he was fined at the time, Kyrgios has since gone on to behave badly on court, copping a fine and suspension for tanking his match against Mischa Zverev at the Shanghai Masters. 

Has he cleaned up his act? 2017 has been a better year for the Australian, but perhaps it is too early just yet to tell if he in on the path to reformation. 
The pair’s rivalry is currently dead even at two matches all, with Kyrgios winning the pair’s most recent outing, which was also at the Masters level – but on clay, at the 2016 Madrid Masters. 

Point to be noted, however – of the four matches that the two have played against each other, only two were played to completion, with each player winning one. 

Second quarter – featuring Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro!

Roger Federer is the Greatest of All Time. After his big title win at Indian Wells – with which he equalled the all-time highest record for titles at that venue, the Swiss legend has only further cemented belief in his mammoth return to form.

At 35-years-old, when most tennis players have far crossed the peak of their gameplay and physical fitness, Roger Federer has exceeded perhaps even his own best tennis. 
Pulling off big back-to-back matches, Federer took his 18th Major title at the Australian Open this year with an epic five-set win over arch-rival Rafael Nadal in the finals. For any detractors who may have thought that win was a flash in the pan, the Swiss followed it up with a title at the first Masters event of the year. 

Now, Federer will have an easy start in Miami – up until a blockbuster in Round 3, which should pit him against Juan Martin del Potro. The tall Argentine, a former US Open champion who has struggled with serious injuries over the years, returned to tennis in a big way last year, winning the silver medal at the Olympic Games in 2016 and climbing over 100 rankings. 

He is currently #34 on the ATP standings, and has become somewhat of a nemesis for Novak Djokovic, beating him twice last year, and scalping a set off him twice this year; the two also took each other on at Indian Wells, with Djokovic emerging the victor after dropping a set, eventually losing to Nick Kyrgios – an exact repeat of what happened at the Mexican Open only a week earlier. 

Federer leads the pair’s head-to-head record by a significant margin – 15-5, and in the form he is currently in, will not be too worried. 
Del Potro has, however, won three of the pair’s past five matches – with every one of the five played on hard court, so predicting a result will not be entirely easy. 
That said, we predict a three-set win for Federer here. 

Other seeded players in this quarter include Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych; Austrian Thiem has seen a decent lick of form this year, winning the Rio Open and made the quarter-finals at a number of events  – including at Indian Wells, where he lost to eventual finalist Stan Wawrinka. 

Berdych has been middling and inconsistent at best, and given his physical struggles may not be a big threat in the quarter.

NOTE: Federer will be aiming here for the prestigious Indian Wells – Miami double this time around; he is one of only nine male players to have achieved the feat. 

He is one of only two players to have achieved the double – double – two Indian Wells-Miami doubles, and only the second player in history. Former World No. 1 Steffi Graf achieved the feat with her doubles in 1994 and 1996, with Federer achieving his in 2005 and 2006. 

Third quarter: Rafa on top! 

Federer and Rafa Nadal have been placed in opposite halves this year, setting up the possibility of a Fedal final, as fans saw not too long ago at the Australian Open; the two also played each other at Indian Wells, with Federer emerging victorious, 6-3, 6-2. 

This could well happen – but it’s not the easiest half for Nadal here at Indian Wells; he’ll have it easy until Round 2, but could meet either Philipp Kohlschreiber or talented American teenager Taylor Fritz in the third round. Fritz recently took top 10 player Marin Cilic at Indian Wells to the brink before defeating him, and has become somewhat of a serve machine of late. 

Also in this quarter is Grigor Dimitrov, who could face Nadal in Round 4 and is seeded ninth in the draw. Dimitrov has been in top form this year, delivering a standout performance at the Australian Open, where he looked to be on the brink of defeating former World No. 1 and eventual finalist Rafael Nadal in the pair’s semi-final; with a scoreline of 6-3, 5-7, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 to Nadal, it’s evident that match could have gone either way – and that the Bulgarian is on top form. 

Dimitrov won the title at his home tournament, the Sofia Open, with a win over David Goffin – losing to the Belgian at the Rotterdam Open immediately after. 
The Bulgarian’s juggernaut was arrested at Indian Wells by a powerful Jack Sock, whom Dimitrov took to three tight sets before his eventual loss – but on form, Dimitrov could well be a threat to Nadal in the fourth round considering that Australian Open semifinal. 

In-form Jack Sock and Mischa Zverev could take each other on in Round 4, or we could see a match-up between Sock and Milos Raonic, who has played well but been struggling with injuries this year, which caused him to skip Indian Wells.

Nadal could see the older Zverev or Raonic on course, but we don’t see this as being much of a threat.

Also in this quarter is the big-serving American Sam Querrey, who has pulled off some huge upsets this year – most notably that of Rafael Nadal himself at the finals of the Mexico Open. Could he play spoiler again? It seems unlikely, but possible.

Fourth quarter – time for Nishikori to shine

Fourth seed Kei Nishikori headlines this quarter, with Marin Cilic also present; Cilic will have an easy run until Round 4, where he will see Nadal-slayer Lucas Pouille.
Nishikori could see giant-killer Fernando Verdasco in Round 3 here, and that could be a serious issue for the Japanese ace; Verdasco, known for being a giant killer, made the finals at Dubai this year before tamely bowing out in the finals to World No. 1 Andy Murray. 

Verdasco has beaten Nishikori on two of four occasions, with Nishikori winning their past two meetings. 

Fans will be hoping for an Australian Open repeat and to watch yet another addition to the ongoing Federer-Nadal saga – but how that will hold up with this draw remains to be seen.

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