Leg two of the Sunshine Double gets underway today. This will be short and sweet, because if you read last week’s preview of Indian Wells… well, it’s basically the same. A 96 person field and 95 of them played in Indian Wells.
There’s been plenty of examples of male players pulling off the Sunshine Double but they are all pretty much Hall of Famers — Courier, Chang, Sampras, Rios, Agassi, Federer x3 and Djokovic x4 (guessing Rios is in the Hall, not doing that much research). It’s doubtful Thiem is in that class yet, so we shall if he can join an elite list.
Let’s dig in.
Start with this; the only two years a top ten player DIDN’T win this event was the inaugural tournament in 1985 (Tim Mayotte) and last year (John Isner). So, if you are digging deep for a sleeper, it’s probably just as unlikely here in Miami as it was in Indian Wells. Step One, wipe off everyone 100/1 and higher. Step Two; how many guys have played three or four weeks running now? Tennis is a grind and a busy February with three tournaments every week and then a March packed with two Masters Series events, all following on the heels of the season’s first Slam at the end of January, means quite a few players have already logged significant court time. Who’s rested and ready to make a last run at hard court success before the clay season gets going? Step Three; which high seeds benefit from a draw avoiding Djokovic and Federer which may allow a deep run? Those are the parameters this week, let’s check the quarters.
Djokovic dominates the headlines, regardless of what happened last week. If there is anyone more finicky about weather , you hard pressed to find him. Djokovic was also upset by Sam Querrey in a rain delayed, weather interrupted match at Wimbledon a few years ago. It would appear he doesn’t like stops and starts. If anything that probably motivates him to step up his game here in Miami. He has been given a cakewalk of a draw that he can easily take advantage of if he chooses to show up this week. The big names in his quarter are Tomas Berdych, John Millman, Bautista Agut, Fabio Fognini, Milos Raonic, Kyle Edmund, Lucas Pouille and John Isner. Edmund, RBA and Berdych are the only three to have recent wins over the Serb and Berdych and Edmund were both taking advantage of Djokovic’s post-Djoker-Slam walk in the wilderness. RBA beat him this year but, it is hard to see that happening twice in such a short time span. This figures to be Djokovic’s quarter, it’s hard to see a way to even hedge any of the outrights here if they come up against Novak and therefore it is best to stay away from here and hope he gets upset two weeks in a row.
An amazing five of the twelve qualifiers will be placed in the second quarter and the quarter is also lacking in depth when you go through the seeds. Thiem is doubtful to complete the Sunshine Double and even if he does, the value has been drained from his outright — last week he was 66/1, this week he is 18/1. That’s depressing even if he makes a deep run. Fucsovics, Basilashvili, and Gilles Simon are not threats to win a big hard court tournament. Nick Kyrgios is a true enigma and honestly, he could wreck all the predictions anyone makes. He has had good success in Miami in the past but this is a new venue with uncertain court conditions, so it is hard to say that past performance is indicative of how this tournament will play out.
Kyrgios got a huge win in Acapulco and then flamed out of Indian Wells. Does he show up this week? At 33/1 it’s not worth spending your money to find out. Coric and Nishikori could be good options — like Kyrgios they both have had success in Florida in the past (although, again, at a different venue) and Nishikori, for one, is having a decent 2019. The fact that they would have to face each other and potentially Kyrgios just makes these prices untenable. The best option in the second quarter is Gael Monfils. Much has been made of his apparent Achilles injury but, the guess here is that he isn’t that hurt and maybe an incident at his hotel involving some police officers may have contributed more to his withdrawl than an injury (not to get political or try to tackle racism in any way but the United States is replete with recent incidents of police officers shooting young, black, men, often innocent men — whatever happened was probably terrifying for Monfils). Count on a super motivated Monfils coming out and ripping through the draw, getting past a Thiem who maybe stole his spot in the final last week, and continuing his streak of being one of the hottest players on tour. At 66/1, this seems like the best option on the board in a pretty wide open quarter.
Kevin Anderson, Grigor Dimitrov, Steve Johnson, Daniil Medvedev, Stan Wawrinka. A collection of guys who have either not played since the Aussie, are having a rough recent stretch or have a huge Federer roadblock. The two shining lights in this quarter are Khachanov and the Swiss maestro. Khachanov is the man to beat in the top section of the quarter. Anderson, Dimitrov and Johnson don’t seem like current threats and if Khachanov has really turned the corner after switching back to his old racquet, tennis fans could be in for some fireworks. The concern, like the players in Djokovic’s quarter, is how do you hedge even a 50/1 ticket if he meets Federer in the quarter-final? You would basically have to just ride it out. No thanks. As for Federer, the value this week is even lower than last week after Roger made the Indian Wells final. His outright price is down to 3/1, from 5.5/1 last week. There is a clear and distinct position on Djokovic and Fed in single digits There are two or three players in the low teens, and then the prices jump all the way up into the 33/1 range. The books are basically daring you to take someone other than Novak and Fed. So, let’s take them up on that.
Just like last week Tsitsipas and Zverev are at opposing ends of a quarter. And again, it doesn’t include Fed or Novak. We didn’t get the showdown last week but, it could happen this week. Tsitsipas has a pretty easy first three rounds lined up, with a bye, and then Ugo Humbert/Leo Mayer/Guido Pella. None of those guys are pushovers but, a motivated and rested Tsitsipas should be able to handle any of them. Tsitsipas was run ragged after going to back to back finals in Marseilles and Dubai and subsequently crashed out of Indian Wells early. But, he has had a week to rest up, slower outdoor hard courts should suit the Greek, and his fourth round match looks winnable, with potential opponents being Marin Cilic, who seems to underperform the Sunshine Double all the time, and Shapovalov, who hasn’t made may deep runs anywhere lately. At 33/1 Tsitsipas has a great chance to make the quarters.
Zverev, similarly, also has a decent draw. Tiafoe, Goffin and Cecchinato may be the easy three seeds to have to face in any section of the draw. Zverev brings one of the better break percentages on hard courts into this event (26% so far in 2019) and he should be motivated to backup his finals appearance here last year. At 14/1, Zverev is a good bet to make the quarters as well. Having Tsitty and Zverev meet up in the quarters would give you the chance to put your feet up and know you have a semi-finalist while cheering for Fed to get upset.
Listen, there is every chance Federer and Djokovic meet in the final. They have owned this event seven times between them in the last thirteen years and when they weren’t winning it, they were usually losing in the semi-finals to each other or the eventual champ. Last year was a true outlier, where both Fed and Djoker went out in their first match, victims of huge upsets. It’s asking a lot for that to happen two years in a row but, if it does, hopefully, these are the best options. This is a new venue, with uncertain court conditions and that only adds to the trepidation. Go slow this week.
Monfils 66/1, x0.25
Tsitsipas 33/1, x0.25
A. Zverev 14/1, x0.5