The first Masters tournament of the ATP Tour this season starts in Miami on Wednesday and with Djokovic, Nadal and Federer all absent, there's a fascinating dynamic here, says Dan Weston...
"I'm expecting an extremely open tournament with a number of players capable of a strong run here, and - whisper it quietly - it's refreshing to see such a competitive field without any of the traditional elite players here."
Medium-slow conditions likely in Miami
We have an 11-day tournament in prospect in Miami with the Miami Masters getting underway at 1500 UK time on Wednesday. As mentioned in the intro, all of the traditional elite players are not in the field; the first time I can remember where they are all not competing in the same tournament at this level.
Considering this, it's pretty unsurprising that Daniil Medvedev 3.7011/4 is the tournament favourite, and even if the elite trio were all present in the field, the Russian would still be at the forefront of the outright market.
After his defeat to Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open, he has lifted the trophy indoors in Marseille although it should be noted that he was a biggest price of 1.402/5 in the four matches in which he won.
Medvedev does tend to do his best work in quicker conditions, but he's unlikely to find that here in Miami. Traditionally, conditions in Florida have been medium-slow for hard courts, with below-average service points won and aces per game counts compared to the ATP hard court mean over recent years.
Some big-servers have done well here though - Andy Roddick winning in 2010, John Isner in 2018 and Roger Federer in 2017 and 2019 - but the tournament has been dominated by Novak Djokovic over the last decade, with the world number one being triumphant on five occasions. 13 of the last 20 finalists came from the traditional elite four.
Next tier of players with similar hard court data
This is obviously not going to be the case this year, given their absences, so it's worth spending some time looking at the next tier of players who could step up in the coming week or so and reach the latter stages.
Interestingly, there's not a lot to choose between a number of the next group of players in the outright market. If we look at hard court data since the tour resumed, there is just 2% difference in the combined service/return points won percentage between six players - Stefanos Tsitsipas 11.521/2, Milos Raonic 25.024/1 (pictured), Alexander Zverev 7.87/1, Andrey Rublev 5.79/2, Aslan Karatsev 15.5 and Denis Shapovalov 26.025/1.
With this rather level playing field in mind, it seems logical to look at the draw in order to try and ascertain if any of this group represents any pre-tournament value. Zverev is the only player of these six in Medvedev's top half of the draw, and the German still has a tricky segment with the likes of Jannik Sinner and Karen Khachanov potential opponents before the latter stages.
Karatsev, Rublev, Shapovalov, Raonic and Tsitsipas are all in what looks like a rather stacked bottom half of the draw, which also includes other players at bigger prices who could be threats - such as Kei Nishikori, Alex De Minaur, Ugo Humbert, Hubert Hurkacz and Diego Schwartzman.
Medvedev the man to beat
Numbers-wise, Medvevev looks the justified favourite given his elite-level 112% combined service/return points won on hard courts since the tour resumed - a level above anyone in the field. The medium-slow conditions won't necessarily help him, but he is definitely the man to beat here.
I'm expecting an extremely open tournament with a number of players capable of a strong run here, and - whisper it quietly - it's refreshing to see such a competitive field without any of the traditional elite players here.
While the biggest names always attract attention, it wouldn't surprise me if a number of casual observers realise that having a tournament without an overwhelming favourite is actually much more interesting...
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