It's been a bizarre year for Djokovic and Murray. So dominant at this stage last season, Djokovic has dramatically fallen off that pedestal in the last nine months, winning just two titles since completing his career Slam at Roland Garros last season, and surrendering his world number one ranking to Andy Murray. Djokovic began 2017 fairly well, winning the Qatar Open in Doha, but he has not been to an ATP semi-final since then. He suffered an ignominious second round loss to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open, and was beaten by Nick Kyrgios in back-to-back quarter finals in Acapulco and Indian Wells. Having surrendered his Indian Wells title last week, he will now lose the Miami crown, a title he has held for the last three years.
Novak Djokovic. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Andy Murray was the man to profit from Djokovic's slump, putting together a stunning end to last season to wrestle the number one ranking from his Serbian rival. Perhaps suffering from his exertions in that five-title, 24-match winning streak, Murray has not lived up to those stratospheric heights in 2017. He has a title in Dubai to show for his season, but he has lost early in the two big tournaments of the year, falling to Mischa Zverev in the fourth round of the Australian Open, and losing to Canadian qualifier, Vasek Pospisil in the opening round at Indian Wells. His withdrawal from the Miami Open represents in another low in a season that hasn't quite left the ground.
While Djokovic and Murray struggle, traditional powerhouses, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have re-emerged as genuine forces, after enduring their own injury problems last season. Written off by many after their respective bouts with injuries, the two legends stormed back to reckoning with runs to the final of the Australian Open final, where they produced a title match worthy of their colossal status in the game. Federerin particular, has been absolutely sensational. After beating Nadal in a stunning fifth set fightback at the Australian Open, the 18-time Grand Slam champion re-iterated his resurgence with another title-winning run at Indian Wells. Grouped into a loaded 'Quarter of Death' that also included Djokovic and Del Potro in California, Federer and Nadal emerged as fourth round opponents, where Federer rolled back the years to produce one of his all-time best performances, limiting Nadal to just five games in a breath-taking display of attacking tennis. Federer was particularly impressive on his backhand wing, a notoriously problematic area against Nadal, but the great Swiss smacked winner after winner beyond a helpless Nadal to move into the quarter finals. Nick Kyrgios' withdrawal from the last eight gave Federer a free pass into the semis, and an unexpected day-off which obviously didn't hurt. The great man would go on to beat Jack Sock in the semis and compatriot, Stan Wawrinka in the final to capture a record-equaling fifth Indian Wells title.
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Stan Wawrinka at Indian Wells. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Federer was returning from a six-month hiatus at the start of the year, after taking time to rehabilitate a lingering knee problem, but he showed little signs of the set back as he eliminated four top 10 opposition on his way to an unprecedented 18th Grand Slam title. Federer's next tournament did not quite go according to plan, as he suffered a bemusing three-set loss to Evgeny Donskoy in the second round in Dubai, but the peculiarity of that result suggested it was nothing more than a bad day in the Federer office, and that was proven to be the case with another dreamy run at Indian Wells. Miami has not been Federer's favourite venue. He won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006, but has made the final on just one other occasion. Federer has hardly been a regular attendee in recent years, as this will be just his second appearance in five editions. Given the form he's in, a third Miami title look a very real possibility.
Nadal, on his part, had struggled with a wrist problem for most parts of 2016, eventually bringing an early conclusion to his season after Shanghai in October, but like Federer, the Spaniard looked in top shape and form in Melbourne. Nadal carried on his good form into Acapulco, sauntering into the final in Acapulco, but once again, he fell at the last hurdle- beaten by Sam Querrey. His run of finals was however halted by that majestic fourth round display by Federer. He would have been disappointed by the blow-out, no doubt, but he would also appreciate that that was a quite stunning performance from his great rival. All said, he looks back to his competitive best and will again be a factor in Miami- where he has never won the crown despite reaching four finals.
Stan Wawrinka recovered from a knee problem to re-assert himself on the tour with a first final of the season in Indian Wells, as he looks to find the year-round consistency that hasn't always been there in the past, while Kei Nishikori, for all the dynamism he brings to the table, remains vulnerable to being served/hit off the court- like Jack Sock did to him at Indian Wells.
Sock is putting together a brilliant campaign, backing up his two titles in Auckland and Delray Beach, with a battling run to the semi-finals at Indian Wells, where he was beaten by the impressive Federer. Provided fatigue doesn't play a major role, he looks good for another run in Miami, while two-time 2017 titlist, Grigor Dimitrov will look to rebound from surprising early losses at Indian Wells.
Juan Martin del Potro remains the darkest of dark horses in Miami, while the enigmatic Nick Kyrgios, returns to the venue where he made the semi-finals last season. Kyrgios can do serious damage in Miami, provided he is in the right space, and is fully recovered from the illness (suspected food poisoning) that made him pull out of the hugely-anticipated quarter final against Federer at Indian Wells.
With all these players nursing genuine hopes of a strong run at Crandon Park, and serial winner, Djokovic missing to action, the 2017 Miami Open promises be the most open edition in recent years.