Thoughts On The 2017 Sunshine Swing
Federer's astonishing form, Konta's Premier breakthrough and some that are struggling
By Stephen Higgins | 4 April 2017
Let's start with some Roger Federer figures:
- 3 titles in 2017
- 4 wins in a row against Rafael Nadal
- 19 wins (to one loss) this year
- 35 years and 7 months old
Judging by the resurgence of the Swiss this season, we should all take a six month sabbatical (with or without the questionable Instagram updates).
The Miami final saw Federer a little short of warp nine Mr. Worf, but still smooth enough to best his Majorcan adversary. So far in 2017, the 18-time major winner is moving nimbly around the court, serving accurately and befuddling opponents with his variety. Shank-asaurus has also gone on an extended leave.
Federer has decided to go into hibernation until Paris to rest his body. Another smart scheduling move from the 91-time ATP title winner. Somebody give Dominic Thiem his number...
While one man completed the Sunshine Double, on the WTA Tour, there were two welcome newcomers to the club of Premier title-winners.
Over her career, Elena Vesnina's scales of success has dipped more towards doubles than singles. However, the Russian nabbed the third and biggest singles gong of her career at Indian Wells thanks to a three sets victory over compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Then in Florida, Jo Konta continued her exceptional rise towards grand slam success with a third career title and second in 2017. The Brit has a number of enviable qualities; mental toughness, strong serve, wand-like backhand and athleticism. Great Britain hasn't claimed a major win on the women's side since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. This 25-year-old has the tools and belief to break that barren spell.
"Few things decided the points and the match. For me, it was much closer than what the result says and completely different than last week [in Indian Wells]."
That was the Rafael Nadal's rational response to Sunday's final on the ATP site. Andy has Melbourne, Roger has Monte-Carlo, Novak has Cincinnati and Rafa clearly has Miami; that big title that has seems to be just out of reach. Nadal has now lost five finals at Crandon Park but should be pleased with his form heading into the European clay section. There will be photos of Rafa biting a trophy or four.
Since Caroline Wozniacki fell from the summit of the sport, she has had large ranking dips followed by unlikely resurgences. The latest jump saw her move from 74 last August to her current position just outside the top 10. Unfortunately, while the Dane continues to pick up victories, big titles still elude her. The 26-year-old hasn't won a Premier Mandatory/5 event in six years and has never lifted a major. Will she ever bridge the gap?
Nick Kyrgios's potential is only throttled by what's above his shoulders. That said, he has rapidly improved in that area over the last few months. I remember Kyrios's performances in Marseille last year, his maiden title. He calmly demolished Richard Gasquet in the quarter finals before adding Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic to his collection of scalps. That week, I was so impressed by his ruthlessness and the lack of nonsense that has overshadowed his career to date.
In Indian Wells and particularly Miami, we saw that focus again. In a match of the year contender, Kyrgios showed the best of himself against Federer. Three tie-break sets tell you all you need to know about how close it was. What was more important though was the 21-year-old's fighting ability and concentration. If he can consistently show those qualities, alongside the exceptional shotmaking and athleticism, there is no ceiling.
Angelique Kerber took the moniker of world no.1 back from Serena Williams in March but her performances in California and Florida were not a full-throated endorsement.
The reigning US Open champion lost to eventual winner Vesnina in Indian Wells, and a fully charged Venus Williams in Miami. They are not embarrassing losses in the slightest, but there is a clear gulf between the German's current level of play and that which propelled her to two majors in 2016.
Will we see Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev or Nick Kyrgios lift a major before the generation of Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic? Say the usual suspects compete for the rest of the season's majors, how good will the younger guys be in 2018? Maybe of greater import, how vulnerable will the older gang be?
After struggling to breakthrough at majors and compete with the elite players, Karolina Pliskova is tearing it up. The Czech is 23-4 this season with two titles to her name. There could have been more as she made the last four back-to-back at IW and Miami. Pliskova is now world number 3 and will be a disastrous opponent for many once the clay gives way to grass and hard.
Often the butt of jokes due to the extraordinary pressure placed on him as a child, let's give Donald Young some credit. The American is now a top 50 player and the fifth best male from his country. I bet you didn't know that he has already reached two semi-finals in 2017 (Memphis, Delray Beach) and two fourth rounds (Indian Well & Miami). There will never be a shortage of respect for lefties from this writer.
Venus Williams is a warrior who must inspire the entire women's dressing room.
The Grigor Dimitrov hype machine appeared to overheat on American soil. The Bulgarian could only pick up one win over the month but there are always sudden peaks and troughs at this level. Dimitrov is definitely back and will be especially dangerous on the grass.
Marin Cilic really doesn't like this stretch of the season. The Croatian lost his first match in both Indian Wells and Miami and has only two quarter-final appearances to show for the last decade. He is a major winner though.
Finally, it was a disappointing few weeks for Agnieszka Radwanska, Carla Suarez Navarro and Elina Svitolina. The Pole has struggled to collect wins since her run to the Sydney final while CSN has only managed one victory in 2017.
Svitolina on the other hand entered March with two titles to her credit. The Ukrainian could only manage a pair of wins at Indian Wells but should rebound for the clay section.