2021 Miami Open ATP Semifinals
Bautista-Agut vs Sinner :
How to write an article about what is going to happen when you don’t know what’s going to happen. A very good question, offered to me by this ridiculously juicy matchup. Here’s the info we’re working with. Roberto Bautista-Agut is this generation’s unsung David Ferrer. He’s never for a moment been anything less than competitive with every single player on tour, and he has major wins against pretty much everyone. He is one of the most professional players on tour, his focus is unrivaled, and his specific gameplan is to play error-free tennis. One of the few guys on tour to do this without devolving into pushing, RBA hits front a very consistent distance on the court and creates a ball that isn’t hit for a winner, but always travels well through the court. His shot patterns are conservative but creative, and although he doesn’t have the most powerful serve, he knows this and sacrifices a little power for accuracy. Spot-serving is often a good method against big-hitters, and he is playing one of the biggest hitters in the current game. Keeping the ball out of Sinner’s strikezone won’t exactly be RBA’s plan going in, because his movement and defensive counterpunching are at the top of the tour.
Sinner has probably become the tour’s most exciting prospect almost overnight. He’s won titles at the age of 19 that other players define a career with, and while it was a straight set defeat, his match with Nadal at Rolan Garros is one of his most talked about performances. He has a huge forehand which somehow creates shape and has power. His backhand looked awkward early in his career but now he barely makes a mistake in it. Despite being one of the hardest hitters on tour, he’s shown that in pressure moments like tiebreakers he can up the pace even more. His serve is not always for aces but he scores points off of it. This will be a bit less pronounced against RBA, as he’s one of the tours best returners and has just dealt with Isner and Medvedev without much trouble. Sinner has two wins against RBA, one occurring just a handful of days ago (how many is a handful? idk) in a brilliant 3-setter. With a developing player you would tend to think that dominance over a veteran very established in their game would continue, as the improving youth and the ‘ol clock-a-lock widens the gap in their abilities. I wish it were that simple. RBA is an excellent problem solver, and has turned around many matches with minor changes. He loses a little on defense with the faster courts but he gains a little power of his own with it as well. The only reason I don’t give a larger edge to Sinner here I think with the H2H is that RBA started this season in very poor form. He lost an inexplicable contest to Albot where RBA couldn’t seem to return a serve, and he just looked a bit out of shape. There were issues early in this event as well, as a 3-setter with Struff and some unforced errors against Isner almost ended his tournament. Those errors weren’t there against Medvedev though, and Sinner’s win in Dubai was 7-5 in the third.
Sinner’s last match was pretty impressive, defeating Alexander Bublik in straight sets. Bublik played well also, but most people seemed to think Sinner would win going in. Sinner is a next-tier player because of his ability to deliver in these high-profile yet winnable matchups. After writing all of that hot nonsense I am still not entirely sure who will win this, and not sure who I think will win either. I can’t really see either playing running away with it, and despite having to do much more work to get to the finish line I think RBA stands a good chance. The most exciting finals here is Sinner and Rublev so I am pretty excited just to watch the match, but I lean slightly towards RBA in 3.
Rublev vs Hurkacz :
Sebastian Korda could easily be in this round playing Stefanos Tsitsipas. Korda served great against Rublev, and applied more pressure to the Russian than I’ve seen anyone really do this year. Even in Rublev’s defeats he didn’t look particularly nervous, but here Korda’s ability to get simple returns to work with was so important. Korda has had some struggles with movement but he was great here, and his forehand was able to hit through the court in such an easily repeatable way that Rublev was in scramble-mode for most of this. The result was that while Rublev did manage to win, he played a bit frantic at the end of the match. A strange match filled with rain-delays upped the pressure, and despite having held fairly easily the whole match, Rublev went down 0-40 once he finally got to 7-5, 5-3. He won the tiebreaker, but was down a minibreak a few times in that tiebreaker, and really this match looked like it was starting to get away from him. Tremendous result for Korda, who seems to be growing in confidence and whose consistent effort to get to the net made this a much easier contest for him than for most who play Rublev. He got passed a bit but he really took Rublev’s time away.
Tsitsipas and Hurkacz almost seemed like they agreed to just go for it early. Hurkacz went down quickly in the first set, but managed to create break points in a number of games and just kept missing his backhand down the line. This was really to be the story of the match, as he just kept missing the shots that would have put him ahead of Tsitsipas. In a similar turn of events to Tiafoe/Lajovic, Stefanos had a number of break points in the second to put this one away, and managed to shank a few and give away the second set right when things got tight. Instead of competing in the third, Tsitsipas took a nice vacation to his mind. Thinking about how unlucky he was, thinking about what it might be like when he lost, thinking about what point or shot would swing the momentum back behind him. All nice and somewhat natural thoughts for a tennis pro, but nothing that helped him compete. While Tsitsipas was lamenting even having to be in a third set, Hurkacz wasn’t really playing exceptional tennis. Had Tsitsipas dug in and committed to playing error-free tennis, he likely would have reeled this back in, but it seems that so many of the young players find it difficult to compete openly when things are not going their way. The bailout dropshots start appearing, they begin trying to explode the moon with a single forehand, and general disagreement with reality starts to creep over their faces. The good news is that Hurkacz has been struggling for a while, so this run of wins can really help him. He plays a bit too free, but in this event we see what kind of tennis he can produce when he lands a good percentage.
Hurkacz can beat Rublev from the baseline, but the errors he made against Tsitsipas will hurt him even worse against Rublev because he plays such a simple game. Tsitsipas is looking to create difficult angles and heights for his opponent; there is an intended artistic vibe to it. As a result, his aggression is tempered and his opponents have time. Rublev just looks to isolate the backhand and then run you, and it seems likely that Hurkacz will have to come up with some real magic to avoid his legs being taken out from under him by long rallies. Rublev seems to have actually gotten quicker around the court, and his returning isn’t for huge effect but he looks to put every ball in play. His serving isn’t pure aces or anything, but he took care of his serve fairly easily in all but 1 game against Korda. Hurkacz is a more agile returner, but I think he’ll struggle to defend the next ball in a similar way to Korda. I think in the end, Rublev gets the job done with mental strength where Tsitsipas kinda capitulated. Rublev in 2.