A month that changed the face of the ATP and the WTA: 10 lessons from the Sunshine Tour
Tennis’ version of March madness, across Indian Wells and Miami, captivated without fail. For those who had their minds elsewhere, here is a recap of all you missed.
10. A surprise from Francisco Cerundolo
Good news for fans of Argentinian tennis, especially those depressed by the retirement of Juan Martin del Potro. The future is emerging. Sebastian Baez has been strong this season, but Francisco Cerundolo took centre stage in Miami with a stunning Masters 1000 debut. The 23-year-old, in possession of a truly enormous forehand, pushed his way into the semi-finals to become the lowest-ranked semi-finalist in Miami Open history on the men’s side.
Cerundolo also became the first Masters 1000 debutant to reach the last four since Jerzy Janowicz made his semi-final run at Paris in 2012.
9. Fritz, Brooksby, Paul… the Americans make the most of home cooking
The Americans have taken some giant strides in the month of March. Even beyond the victory of Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells, the first US player to win a Masters 1000 since John Isner in Miami in 2018 and now close to the top 10 (4th in the Race), we have seen great things from young players like Jenson Brooksby and Tommy Paul (each notched career-best wins this month), even Sebastian Korda who almost beat Nadal at Indian Wells, has shown promise of a bright future.
There are now seven American players in the top 50 and the most interesting thing is that six of them are under 25 (also with Reilly Opelka and Frances Tiafoe). To be continued…
8. Osaka and Kyrgios are smiling again…
Last year, they were both almost lost to the sport, as each was stuck in a deep malaise and descended into the abyss of the rankings. But Naomi Osaka and Nick Kyrgios have managed to climb back to relevance, the first by starting to see a psychotherapist, the second by cleaning up his personal life.
Result: they both found a tennis much more worthy of themselves, especially in Miami for Osaka, who reached the final. Meanwhile, Kyrgios threatened Nadal in the quarter-finals in Indian Wells and crushed Andrey Rublev in Miami. Both have certainly ended up struggling against a lack of matches under their belts. But as long as they’re not struggling with their evil demons, that’s the main thing. And that’s great news for tennis.
7. Cameron Norrie is a top-10 player
True to form, Britain’s Cameron Norrie didn’t make a lot of noise but he showed consistency on this American swing, quarter-finalist in Indian Wells (beaten by Alcaraz) – of which he was the surprising defending champion – round of 16 in Miami (stopped by Ruud).
His consistency throughout the season and his ability to very rarely lose to players lower than him allowed the British player to break into the top 10 for the first time in his career. A superb reward for a player who is underrated at the moment.
6. Ruud and Kecmanovic have taken over the “traditional” Next Gen
The main representatives of the Next Gen, at least those traditionally destined to take power or identified as such, were generally disappointed on this swing. In particular Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who did not do better than a quarter and a round of 16 in Miami. Andrey Rublev, unstoppable in February, suffered a setback after his semi-final defeat at Indian Wells – which is already not so bad – while Matteo Berrettini had the excuse of being injured, since he underwent hand surgery.
But the main disappointment remains Felix Auger-Aliassime, who did not win a single match on in the swing, which contrasts with the stellar form he displayed at the start of the season. His compatriot Denis Shapovalov did little better, but with him, we are more used to the whipsaw.
Result: distinguished but much less well-known members of this young generation, the Norwegian Casper Ruud, finalist for the first time at a Masters 1000 (in Miami), and the Serb Miomir Kecmanovic (quarter-finalist in California and Florida), to whom could perhaps add the Pole Hubert Hurkacz (even if he lost his title in Miami), took the opportunity to come out of the shadows.
And given the level they posted, it’s probably not a flash in the pan.
5. Nadal and Medvedev are out
They are two of the main losers of the US tour, especially Daniil Medvedev dispossessed of the number one spot he held at the start of Indian Wells (beaten quickly by Monfils), and who was only one victory away from recovering in Miami if he had reached the semis (beaten by Hurkacz).
But even more concerning than the ranking is the fact that Medvedev came out of it all injured, hampered by an inguinal hernia which he decided to have operated on immediately, even if it meant giving up on the clay-court season (a month or two of absence estimated ). The surgery marks a decidedly bad period for the Russian, whose bad memories of his lost final in Australia and the international context weigh on his mind, affecting his physique.
For Nadal, everything was going well until his final at Indian Wells, launched on the best start to the season of his career (20 wins in a row). But a stress fracture in his rib at the end of his semi-final against Alcaraz, and probably too much insistence in the final against Fritz (but we appreciate the warrior mentality), cost him an estimated absence of four to six weeks. If his return remains scheduled for May, his aficionados are already trembling in view of Roland-Garros…
4. Djokovic rises to the top without playing
Deprived of an American tournament – like the Australian Open at the start of the season – because of his (non) vaccination status, the Serb nevertheless took advantage of Medvedev’s double misstep to resume his record-setting run atop the ATP’s ranking. Never mind that he did so without playing, the world number one spot is Nole’s once again – he commences his 364th week as No 1 today, April 4.
And given that he is about to make his return to Monte-Carlo, that Nadal and Medvedev are “out” for the moment and that he has a comfortable lead over the others, he can calmly aim for the record, men and women combined, held by Steffi Graf: 377 weeks in total…
3. Bye-bye Ash Barty
It was, of course, THE bomb announced during the month of March, on March 23, at the start of the Miami tournament: at 25, world number one with an cavernous lead over her rivals and victorious at the start of the year at the Open in Australia, Ashleigh Barty decided to retire in full glory from tennis life.
If some suspected that the Australian would not have been the type to play until the age of 40, her announcement still took everyone by surprise and engulfed the news of women’s tennis for a few days. And then came Iga…
2. Meet the WTA’s new boss – Iga Swiatek
Parachuted almost overnight to world No. 1 after Barty asked to be removed from the list – she still had to win at least one match in Miami to officially validate it -, Iga Swiatek has magnificently assumed this thorny situation, by triumphing in Florida two weeks after having done the same in Indian Wells.
The Pole has thus become the fourth player in history to achieve the “Sunshine double” (after Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka) while demonstrating a level of play and above all a consistency in results worthy of a boss. In fact, she immediately nipped in the bud any possible questioning of her new status. Today, no one can tell her that she has become number 1 by default.
1. Carlos Alcaraz is the current best player in the world
Of course, this information should be tempered, or rather measured against the absence of Djokovic and now Nadal and Medvedev. But it’s mathematical: the Spaniard is the player who has taken the most points on the whole of the American tour since after his semi-final in Indian Wells, he followed up with a title in Miami which he became, at 18 years and 11 months, the youngest winner.
Since the start of the season, the Martian from Murcia has only lost two matches (for now 18 victories), which has earned him world No. 2 in the Race (!) and very close to the top 10 in the standings. A barrier that he should undoubtedly break down in the coming weeks on clay, as he no longer seems to have any limits.
With Iga Swiatek, but in even more sensational proportions, he is in any case THE big winner of this US tour. The one who will have burst onto the scene, from start to finish. And definitely hatched into the world of giants.