Premier League Matchday 35: Tricky Away Trip For Manchester United
Let’s deal with the awkward admin task first; if you didn’t already know, the Miami Open has moved.
It’s moved into the city of Miami, having previously been held well outside it at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne. Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, on the mainland is the new venue with a 14,000 capacity court inside the American football ground and others outside on what was the parking lot.
This is somewhat problematic from a betting perspective as we don’t have any proper course form to work with and it’s hard to say exactly what the conditions will be.
What is known is that a Laykold hardcourt surface will continue to be used. It will also still be humid – we’re only 20 miles up the road – and this will fluff up the balls, quickly slowing them down. This may not be quite the problem it was on Key Biscayne, where the courts were very close to the sea (the new venue is several miles inland), but any differences are likely to be marginal.
As for the bounce, the same surface manufacturer means it should be similar to 12 months ago. If so, the balls will bounce lower than in Indian Wells last week.
Overall, playing conditions can be expected to be pretty sluggish – Grigor Dimitrov’s coach Dani Vallverdu has already described them as “medium/slow”.
Like many of the Masters 1000 tournaments, this one has been dominated by familiar names in recent years.
John Isner’s win here (well, almost) 12 months ago was just the third by someone not called Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray since Federer’s first title in 2005.
Murray doesn’t play this year but Djokovic is the 11/8 favourite with Federer second in the market at 7/2. Neither is for me.
Djokovic has to be favourite but 11/8 is no price. He was stunned by Philipp Kohlschreiber in Indian Wells, a result surely no-one saw coming given the German was 1-8 in their head-to-head.
The world number one said it was simply “one of those days” but he’s had very few of those in the past nine months and any losses like that have to be worry for potential backers.
Maybe he’ll be able to quickly put that behind him, particularly with coach Marian Vajda joining him in Miami.
Djokovic’s draw seems decent enough – Federer is in the other half – but if he can lose to Kohlschreiber, there are many more players who look capable of taking down the six-time champion.
Tomas Berdych, who has been a decent start to the season having returned from a long-term injury, has a strong record at this event – he’s been to the quarter-finals or beyond on eight occasions, making the final in 2010 – and he could be an awkward first opponent for Djokovic.
However, his woeful 0-21 record against the Serb on a hardcourt prevents me from really making a case for him to cause the upset.
Milos Raonic and Isner are potential quarter-final foes, with Indian Wells champ Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori also in the top half.
However, it is the maverick Nick Kyrgios I’m prepared to take a (small) risk on in this section.
The Australian played very well in Acapulco to capture the title less than three weeks ago, beating the likes of Rafael Nadal, Isner and Alex Zverev along the way.
He was much-hyped ahead of Indian Wells but blew out in his opener having gone off at 33/1.
That wasn’t the biggest surprise to me but just two weeks later he’s out to 35/1 in a weaker field, Nadal having withdrawn.
In his three previous visits to Miami, Kyrgios has made the semis twice, beating a string of top-20 players including Raonic, David Goffin and Zverev. His three losses have come against Kei Nishikori, Federer (in a third-set tie-break) and Zverev.
I find this strong record less surprising as Miami is a city I expect Kyrgios really enjoys being in, as opposed to the pensioner-filled desert town of Indian Wells. Expect him to be seen at a Miami Heat basketball game, chilling on the beach etc.
A happy Kyrgios plays well and he could – and I admit it’s risky business – go well again.
It’s really not long since his Acapulco success and there’s definitely been a price over-reaction somewhere. I believe he may have gone out too far here.
A potential draw problem is Nishikori, who Kyrgios could play in the last 32. He’s never beaten the Japanese in four attempts but Nishikori’s form has been pretty poor this season so it’s not enough to put me off a small-stakes punt.
The Bottom Half – that of Federer – I’m going to take a chance on second seed Alex Zverev, who at 12/1 could also have been pushed out too far.
Last year’s runner-up also made the quarter-finals in 2017 so the humid, slowish conditions clearly suit him. Like Kyrgios, he has the power to hit through the court and make the winners others will struggle to.
Zverev lost his first match in Indian Wells almost two weeks ago but was clearly ill and in any case he admitted after that loss to Jan-Lennard Struff that he had “always struggled” there and sounded enthusiastic about heading to Florida where he will link up again with Ivan Lendl, the coach who helped him to ATP Finals glory in London in November.
Zverev, who made the Acapulco final prior to Indian Wells, has won three of his last 15 Masters 1000 tournaments – a run stretching back to May 2017 – which by any non-Big Four standards is very good.
In the same period of time, Federer has won just once at this level.
He must recover from both a surprise final loss and a deep run in Indian Wells. He notably failed to back up well in the ‘Sunshine Double’ last year – after losing the IW final he was beaten by Thanasi Kokkinakis in his Miami opener.
The humidity could be a problem for the 37-year-old – it certainly was during his US Open defeat to John Millman last summer – and he looks worth taking on.
Alex Zverev each-way 12/1
Nick Kyrgios each-way 35/1