If you thought the tennis from Miami would be more orderly for the seeds than the last event in Indian Wells, well think again. Day one for the main draw started with seeds going down and the trend continues. James Blake was the first of a long line, followed by Safin, Baghdatis, Hrbaty, Hewitt (he retired) and Tommy Haas. And that’s before the television coverage kicked in. On Sunday we lost Gonzalez and Youzhny. Yesterday it was Davydenko, Gasquet, Berdych and Nalbandian. Is there something in Miami about the water that we should know about?
Still, it’s been a fun tournament. Why I don’t know, it just feels fun, the matches have been all over the place and if you are a spectator you have probably enjoyed yourself. In fact part of the viewing fun has been watching the crowd. Unlike the desert of Indian Wells, where people have both time and money on their hands, Miami has a more urban proletariat feel. This bunch could have wandered in from the beach. Crowd Control? What’s that? Changeovers? Huh? Large groups of people are allowed to file into the stadiums at the most inopportune times, annoying the hell out of the players who are about to serve. Crandon Park looks like it’s situated in a swamp, so I was half-expecting a few gators to come wandering in too. It’s been that kind of tournament. Weather has been a problem too with rain backing up the first few days, and it seems to be perpetually windy here as well.
The pleasures of this event for me are coalescing around the budding careers of some new babies on the block. One of them is Juan-Martin Del Potro. Just last week I mentioned to my co-writer Nina Rota that we should probably start speaking more about this kid. Then he went out and upset Youzhny, so now we really have to talk about him. The Argentines are extremely fond of his prospects and now I see why. He’s only 18 but his head and his nerve seem about 28. He’s got great height at 6’5”, but he moves nimbly for a big guy. He’s got a two-handed backhand that looks solid, as does his forehand. He takes both shots with elbows quite bent and arms close in to his body, but he gets his shots off effectively. His serve is solid and he is not adverse to coming forward given his chances. He’s still got to get through Nadal in the next round, but given how things have gone so far here no match can be said to be nailed down. Look for a free-swinging battle in that match-up, since Del Potro looks too young still to be scared. And last but not least, he has hair. Lots and lots of it! Yum.
The other find out of this tournament is one of ours, sort of. Amer Delic emigrated nearly ten years ago with his family from the war in Bosnia, and that’s good news for Americans. I can’t remember when I ever saw Nikolay Davydenko being so frustrated on a tennis court as he was yesterday. He could never figure out the riddle of returning Delic’s powerful serves. This guy’s name has appeared on the horizon over the last year, and his win yesterday should give him a big leg up in confidence. Delic is 6’5”, lean and strong, with a muscle T he looks like he belongs in. He reminds me of Safin, with the same power and rangy speed that allows him to get around the court well. He started the match inauspiciously, his serve wasn’t quite grooved and his one-handed backhand let him down a lot. Towards the end of the first set he fought his way into the match, getting an early break back and forcing Davydenko into a tiebreak. Normally the Russian returns well but Delic was such a new item that Davydenko had trouble reading his serve. Then Davydenko’s normally reliable game started breaking down, particularly the forehand. Davydenko had four set points and couldn’t close the deal. Delic was off to the races, winning in two sets.
The other stand-out is a veteran, Guillermo Canas, who is as hot as he was in Indian Wells. This guy is a dream competitor, he has energy and perseverance up the wazoo. Being out of the game for such a long time seems to have focused his desire to get back to the top. The guy is honed in now like a laser beam. He continues to serve well and cover the court like he was born to play the net. He had too much firepower and consistency for Richard Gasquet yesterday. Next up is the dream rematch of Canas with Roger Federer. I want to see Roger get his own back, but the way Canas is playing…..gulp! That’s why this has been a great spectator’s tournament, the match-ups have been terrific.
Yippie tai yai yay, as the cowboys say. Maria Sharapova will be yelling that too. It’s Tuesday, 11:34 a.m. and Serena Williams just stuck the knife into her. We’re going to start calling Maria “Yippie,” because she’s got the service jitters really bad. 6-1, 6-1 was the score, and it felt like we barely saw the players warm-up. The problem started for Maria down in Australia, and her service motion is not getting any better. As Pam Shriver said, it’s all mental, there’s just nothing you can do about it in practice. It only shows up for a player during a match. You wonder what advice her current date Andy Roddick has offered up. Maybe he should wonder if it’s catching.
My picks going into the round of 16:
Murray over Mathieu (Murray dropped the opening set, but came back to win).
Delic over Chela: Chela’s had a good run, clipping Tomas Berdych yesterday, but I like the American’s chances, and if that big serve is working he could pull this out.
Robredo over Stepanek (right now they are going into a third set).
Nadal over Del Potro – Much as I would love to see Del Potro shine again, Nadal may have too much experience and firepower. Besides, don’t we all want a Roger Nadal final? Sorry, Juan.
Ljubicic over Nieminen – Lots of craft and guile in this one. Both guys had some trouble getting here. Too much height advantage and firepower from the big Croat.
Djokovic over Lopez – Feliciano has great hair too, and he had for him a great run this week, taking out Safin early on. But Djokovic is a steely kid, and he’s caught a good draw here.
Roddick over Ferrer – Ferrer does amazingly well for a little guy, and he nearly forced Roddick into a first set tiebreak today. But way too much firepower and consistency now from Roddick.
Federer over Canas – I still say bet the entire house on Roger. We will see entrails scattered about here, as I wrote earlier in the week. I just hope they’re not Roger’s.
That’s it, folks. Four Spaniards, three Argentines, two Americans, one Frenchman, a Scot, a Croat, a Serb, a Czech, one lonely Finn and that Swiss guy what’s ‘is face. Shake well, cocktails are on the way. It’s going to be one powerful brew.