5 More Hot Players to Look Forward to at Miami Open
Jan 24, 2024
Following up on my previous article about 5 hot players to look forward to at the coming Miami Open, I’ve got 5 more I have to highlight. As noted in that article, we’ve seen some excellent tennis at the Happy Slam over in Australia, and some of the top performers there could go into the Miami Open with just the experience and momentum they need to have a big tournament on some similarly fast hardcourts across the globe.
The Bulgarian hot shot has had a tremendous career, but many think he hasn’t lived up to his potential. At the least, he hasn’t been able to live up to the early hype and label that “Baby Fed” implied. However, he seemed to shake off the pressure, shake off the rust, and shake off the errors in the second half of 2023. He played truly phenomenal tennis that led to him making the finals of the Paris Masters, just barely losing to Novak Djokovic, and many have expected him to start 2024 with a bang and perhaps have one of the best years of his career — maybe even the best! As we’ve seen, some of his colleagues, like Adrian Mannarino and of course Novak Djokovic, have hit their stride and had record-breaking and career-best years in their mid-30s. Indeed, he started the year by winning the Brisbane International, his first ATP title in 7 years. Dimitrov started getting talked about as one of the few people who could challenge for the AO title, but it turned out the smart, slick Nuno Borges played upset to those dreams and knocked Dimitrov out a bit early. Nonetheless, I expect Dimi to bounce back quickly, and he’s got to be one of the names you put in the hat for a very deep run in Miami. He will certainly be a fan favorite there, as he is everywhere.
Above: Grigor Dimitrov. Photo credit: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour.
Yes, Borges deserves a nod, too. His natural skill, calmness on court, brilliant awareness of the court and shotmaking, and growing confidence tell me that he’s going to rise up the rankings fast in 2024. Beating Dimitrov in four sets wasn’t the only upset he delivered at the Australian Open. He also beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the round before in just three set! Davidovich Fokina is no easy player to beat, and certainly not in three sets. He also rolled through his first round match in three sets. When he got to Daniil Medvedev, his luck ran out a bit, but watching the match, it was clear that luck had not gotten him to that point. He is an extremely talented and smart player who truly challenged Medvedev and took a set off of him. Nuno’s run at AO 2024 was no fluke, and while I have to admit that he was not on my radar going into 2024, I will keep a close eye on him in Miami. Also, just in terms of pure tennis fun, his game is so intelligent and unique, his level of calm on all sorts of points is so impressive and endearing, and his super smooth hands are so mesmerizing, that I highly recommend catching any matches or even portions of matches that you can of his. Even more so, if he’s going up a top dog, expect it to be a fascinating battle of tennis wits and skill.
Above: Nuno Borges. Photo credit: Corinne Dubreuil/ ATP Tour.
Talk about a surprise hot shot, young Arthur Cazaux came to play in Melbourne. He exuded confidence and swagger, and he backed it up with blistering serves that didn’t match his height and eye-popping forehands. He upset not one, not two, but three top players. Laslo Ðere was his first tough challenge, and anyone who knows Ðere knows he won’t give you anything easy and can hang with the best of them. He took two sets off of a fellow Serbian by the name of Novak Djokovic in the most recent US Open. Cazaux came through in 5 in this grand slam, and he could have gone home counting that as a success and with a smile on his face if he didn’t get any further. But the wild card had much higher aspirations. He took that momentum into the next round and knocked out Holger Rune in four sets with a blistering performance. Just getting warmed up, he then steamrolled Talon Griekspoor in the 3rd round. While he finally succumbed to the world’s best server, Hubert Hurkacz, in the 4th round, I can tell you from watching that match that it definitely could have swung the other way if Cazaux had a little more luck on his side or a bit more experience under his belt. Cazaux doesn’t seem satisfied with one big tournament run. Expect him to go into every tournament in the hardcourt swing with his tennis racket blazing and belief that he can beat whoever is put in front of him. He may have a very big Miami Open.
Above: Arthur Cazaux. Photo credit: Corinne Dubreuil for ATP Tour.
I’ve avoided highlighting all of the other big names in the hardcourt game — Djokovic, Alcaraz, and Medvedev. They are always top contenders, and they’ve got slam titles to prove it. Sinner doesn’t yet have a slam title, and doesn’t yet have a slam final to his name (at least, at the time of this writing), so I think we can still consider him an up & comer. Also, he’s had the biggest upward trajectory in the past 6 months, so this growth trend alone means he deserves a special mention. Going into the AO semi-final against Novak Djokovic, he’s the only player who hasn’t dropped a set. No one knows exactly what will happen against the king of Melbourne Park, but that alone tells you that Sinner has become something special and is on the verge of putting himself in the top tier of men’s tennis (if he isn’t there already). Whatever happens Down Under, the hardcourt skier and ball basher from both wings is a clear contender for the coming Miami Open title. Perhaps he will collect what he almost won a couple of years ago when losing to Hubi Hurkacz in the sunniest ATP1000 final on tour.
Above: Jannik Sinner. Photo credit: Corinne Dubreuil/ ATP Tour.
Juncheng (Jerry) Shang
This one is a sneak attack, as I think Shang still isn’t on the radar of many people. He will be within a few years, at most, though. Shang has serious firepower, and last I heard, he has knocked down the fastest serve of AO 2024 so far — despite being just about 6 feet tall! He’s got a powerful and lively left hook as well, able to hit winners from all over the court against even the best movers. In fact, you might say that “sneak attack” is his style of play. At just 18 years old, he’s got huge growth potential and is evolving rapidly. His last match at the Australian Open was not his best showing, but it was a notable one nonetheless — it was the first time that Carlos Alcaraz played someone younger than himself on the pro tour. After a grueling couple of weeks, Shang was a bit out of it physically, and he simply was not ready for what Alcaraz brought to the table, but let’s rewind a little bit further to see why he deserves to be on this list.
Above: Juncheng (Jerry) Shang. Photo credit: 2023 Peter Staples/ ATP Tour.
My daughter and I actually met Shang about a month ago at a Whole Foods in Sarasota, Florida. We were getting ready for a week-long Rafael Nadal Academy camp (in which my daughter won 1st place in the end-of-week competition), and I happened to spot and recognize Shang in the self-checkout line. It must have been one of the first times he was spotted by a tennis fan out in the real world, and he and his dad were beaming when I told them he was sure to become not just a star, but a superstar. Perhaps that even gave him a little boost to start 2024, as he went to Hong Kong and knocked out three top ATP pros — the aforementioned Laslo Ðere, Botic van de Zandschulp, and Francis Tiafoe — before succumbing to Andrey Rublev in the semi-final. Even in that match, Shang won the first set against Rublev — and anyone who knows tennis knows how hard it is to win a set on the always-intense and consistent hard-hitter! Showing that wasn’t a fluke run and that he was ready for the big time, Shang beat solid hardcourt player and former UCLA star Mackie McDonald in the first round of the Australian Open. He then won his second round match in four sets. Then, yes, he got destroyed by Carlitos Alcaraz and retired in the 3rd set. But expect Shang to be stronger and better from that experience. Living and training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Shang will without a doubt be hyped for the coming Miami Open and eager to shine in his home state. With his cracking serve, his popping lefty forehand, his great movement and quick pace, and the fearlessness of an 18-year-old who just had the best wins of his young career, Jerry will be a force to be reckoned with in Miami. Let’s just hope he doesn’t draw Alcaraz in the first round! Or maybe that’s exactly what we should be hoping for.
So, those are my 10 hot ATP players to look out for at the Miami Open. Check back in soon for top WTA players to catch when they hit the hardcourts of the Magic City.
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. Photo credit (top): Miami Open presented by Itaú.