5 Hot Players to Look Forward to at Miami Open
Jan 23, 2024
We’re in the middle of the Australian Open. What am I doing writing about the Miami Open? Well, this Australian Open has been a blast, but there’s something always a little sad about the second week of a slam — some of the top players we love have been knocked out, exciting stories of hot young prospects have come to their natural end as they’ve run into the giants at the top of the sport, and our dreams of some of our older favorites winning another big title have fizzled. That’s when we start dreaming about the next big tournament and what may come there (while still enjoying the blockbuster matches of the second week of the slam).
Above: Carlos Alcaraz takes a selfie. Photo credit: Miami Open presented by Itaú.
Yes, Indian Wells is the next big tournament, not the Miami Open. However, there are reasons to focus on Miami. For one, it’s another fast hardcourt tournament, like the Australian Open, whereas Indian Wells is a slow hardcourt tournament. So, some of the storylines from this AO season are potentially more relevant — or, at the least, we think they are more likely to be relevant. We can continue the fun from this past week in our minds and dream of new tournament endings. Secondly, I’m a Floridian and will attend the Miami Open, so of course that’s what I’m thinking about!
Note that I’m focusing on ATP players here. I’ll do a separate article on WTA players to look forward to watching in sunny Miami.
The best Polish male player in history often goes under the radar. He won the Miami Open a few years ago, yet no one cared to ask him any questions at one of the press conferences. He’s not often discussed as a title challenger, but his game is improving and he’s getting called the best server in the world more and more frequently. Last year, after playing Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, Djokovic said he never felt so helpless trying to return someone’s serves. The hottest young player in the world at the moment is probably Jannik Sinner, but recall that it was Sinner who Hurkacz beat in straight sets in the Miami Open final in 2021.
Above: Hubert Hurkacz. Photo: ATP Tour.
I’m actually writing this right as Hubert’s match against Arthur Cazaux is wrapping up. Cazaux played a phenomenal match, with 41 winners and only 28 unforced errors, yet Hubi knocked him out in straight sets, with 41 winners and 25 unforced errors. Importantly, Hubi played superbly at key points. I’ve long seen him as one of the most clutch players on tour, and he has delivered again. But this is also a key: Hubi’s obvious weakness has long been his forehand. It has had a tendency to break down and hit unforced and forced errors against the toughest opponents. It’s a key reason he hasn’t made a grand slam final, won another ATP1000, or broken into the top 5. In the latter part of 2023 and the beginning of 2022, though, Hurkacz has made a key change that many of us have long been wishing to see. He has gotten much more aggressive on the forehand. It may be counterintuitive, but this is what he has needed in order to cut down on the errors (which I think have largely stemmed from not swinging through on the forehand enough) and to shorten points when the opportunity arises in order to not lull himself to sleep and then hit those errors. In the United Cup and AO, Hurkacz has looked like a new player, like he’s finally approaching his peak potential and the level needed to beat the biggest guys at the biggest tournaments. We’ll see.
I felt a little funny for a moment starting with Hurkacz, but then I realized it’s that tendency we all seem to have to push him to the side and under acknowledge him. Granted, I’m biased, as my wife is Polish and my daughters were born in the same city Hurkacz was born in, but I think that bias might just be what helped me recognize Hubi’s high level before others paid him any attention, so I’ll take it.
There were high hopes for Tommy Paul at the US Open after he beat young superstar Carlos Alcaraz for the second time leading into it, and there was some hope for him again at the Australian Open since he reached the semifinals of the major last year before falling to the nearly untouchable Novak Djokovic down under in their first matchup ever. He played a total blockbuster match against Jack Draper at AO this year and got his first win against the hot young Brit after losing their first two matchups, including one the week before. Many thought he may sail to the quarterfinals after that and face Alcaraz, with a chance to yet again break their draw and go ahead 3-2 in their lifetime head-to-head. (He led the head-to-head 1-0 and 2-1 before Alcaraz tied it up both times.) Alas, Paul ran into the solid wall and bazooka-powered ball machine known as an in-form Miomir Kecmanović, and it is instead Kecmanović who got his chance at revenge against Carlitos (their first match was a nail-biter at the Miami Open in 2022 that Alcaraz won by the thinnest of margins).
Above: Tommy Paul. Photo: New Balance.
Will Tommy Paul, who spent much of his youth in Florida, be able to bounce back and win the biggest title of his career? Could he at least make a run to the finals of the Miami Open? As a fan favorite, many are hoping to see his racket spinning and racket twirling bring home the trophy, but that will require consistency of the highest order in such a big, fast-paced tournament.
The booming, boisterous, bold young star from Gainesville probably has the biggest potential upside of any American male tennis player since Andy Roddick. His left-handed bomb of a serve is only getting better, and if it’s firing in Miami, watch out! Equally as impressive is his athleticism around the court and his unpredictable, creative, intuitive tennis. He isn’t a robotic country club product, and he brings a level of spunk, swagger, and clutch decision making that makes him seem comparable to an NBA or NFL superstar. As he refines his game, it’s hard to see him not winning a grand slam or two, and it would be fitting if his first ATP1000 title was in the gator territory of Florida.
Above: Ben Shelton. Photo: © On.
Interesting enough, the extremely athletic, marketable power player was foiled by a completely different kind of character at AO — and it was another lefty. That was, of course, the enigmatic Adrian Mannarino.
I don’t know if anyone would put money on Mannarino winning the Miami Open, but it’s a wild card worth toying with for a few minutes. At the least, it would be exciting and perhaps even unsurprising to see the Frenchman who lives and trains in Miami go deep into the latter stages of the Sunshine State’s ATP1000 at 35 years of age. Adrian had his best year ever in 2023, and he followed it up strongly by tying his best run ever at a major down in Melbourne. He won three of his career five titles just last year and has clearly aged well. He has won his last eleven 5-set matches, not losing one of those since 2015, showing that he can hang with almost anyone in a grueling physical battle. One has to think that if he didn’t end up facing the greatest AO competitor of all time, Novak Djokovic, he would have had a good chance of making the quarterfinals or semifinals in Melbourne.
Above: Adrian Mannarino. Photo: ATP Tour.
At a career high ranking of 19 (sure to improve next week) and putting his name in the hat as the latest tennis bloomer ever, it would be a crime to not consider Manna one of coolest players to watch going into the Miami Open, where fast, low-bouncing courts will again favor his completely unique game.
Despite falling to Tommy Paul in the Australian Open, Draper started the year extremely strong. Training harder than ever in the off-season in order to try to avoid injury issues that have plagued him in his young career, many are expecting big things from IMG-backed Draper in 2024. It would not be a shocker for many if he could even break into the top 10. It almost seemed like a miracle that Tommy Paul beat him at AO when watching his tremendous shot making, seeing him hit Thor forehands, and witnessing 10 or so Alcaraz-like supershots — bullets on or near the line from seemingly impossible situations or positions — but also recall that Draper scorched Paul the week before in Adelaide. In fact, if it wasn’t for his long week making the final of the ATP250 AO lead-in and Tommy Paul itching for revenge, Draper probably could have made the second week of the year’s first major. Alas, not to be, Draper is probably extra motivated for the coming hardcourt swing. I wouldn’t want to end up in his half of the draw at any of the coming tournaments, and he’s got to be considered one of the favorites outside of the top 10 to win the Miami Open.
Above: Jack Draper. Photo: Corinne Dubreuil for ATP Tour.
I’ve actually got 5 more top prospects to discuss for the coming Miami Open, but that’s a lot to sleep on. Check in again soon for my next story, and let us know who you’ll be eager to see in Miami.
Zachary Shahan has been a tennis fan since his favorites in the 1990s, Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf, seemed to be setting records that would never be broken. In the past 7 years, as his daughters have developed into masterful little tennis players, he has embedded himself in the Florida tennis scene of Bradenton and Sarasota. With coaches who grew up with, played doubles with, and are still friends with Francis Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz, and Michael Mmoh, and sharing courts with various IMG students and college players, Zach is always digging for a little more intel on the current happenings as well as deep history of ATP and WTA pros. Zach also does some live match commentary for popular YouTube tennis channel Game to Love.