5 Things We Learned In Miami
A look back at the biggest storylines of the 2018 Miami Open presented by Itau
(1) Confidence is key (especially for Isner)
It's safe to say that John Isner was not a favourite to win the Miami Open presented by Itau. The American arrived at Crandon Park having won two tour-level matches all season (2-6) with neither of those victories coming against opponents inside the Top 80 of the ATP Rankings.
But after losing the second set in his opening-round match against Jiri Vesely 1-6, the American won 11 consecutive sets to capture the biggest title of his career. Isner had won 12 previous tour-level trophies, but none of them came outside of the ATP World Tour 250-level.
"I knew the only way I was going to be able to win this [Vesely] match is if I free up and just loosen up and just hit the ball," Isner said after stunning Indian Wells champion Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals. "I was playing loose and playing free. And then from there I have been on the right path."
That path led Isner to 53 straight service holds to conclude the tournament, helping him beat three Top 6 opponents: No. 3 Marin Cilic (Round of 16), No. 6 Del Potro (SF) and No. 5 Alexander Zverev (Final). It is the first time he has beaten two players in the Top 5 at the same tournament. And to think, he had only won two matches all year.
(2) Zverev is poised for another big year
It was not the best start to 2018 for Alexander Zverev, as the German suffered three of his first four defeats this season against players outside the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings. But the 20-year-old phenom showed in Miami that he is plenty capable of raising his level to contend for more titles after triumphing five times a year ago.
After battling through a third-set tie-break in his second-round match against Sydney champion Daniil Medvedev, the German found his stride. Zverev played excellent tennis to oust David Ferrer, who played at a level reminiscent of his time in the Top 5 in the opening set of that encounter, and then went on to oust No. 17 seed Nick Kyrgios, BNP Paribas Open semi-finalist Borna Coric and No. 16 seed Pablo Carreno Busta without dropping a set.
As Zverev told reporters, "I just missed too many balls. That's it." If the German's backhand passing shot at 30/30 on Isner's serve while leading 3-2 in the deciding set dropped just a fraction of a second sooner to earn break point, the match could have possibly ended differently. Zverev could have lifted the trophy to become the youngest since Novak Djokovic in 2008 to own three Masters 1000 titles.
And while he doesn't have the glory, Zverev will have confidence to build upon as the ATP World Tour shifts to the European red clay.
(3) Juan Martin del Potro is going in one direction — up
Yes, the Argentine was unable to become the first player to win back-to-back-to-back titles at Acapulco and the ‘Sunshine Double’ in Indian Wells and Miami. But it is important to remember something — Del Potro is once again one of the most feared players on the ATP World Tour.
The World No. 6 got off to a career-best 21-3 start to the season, with his 21 wins leading the Tour. And not just that, but Del Potro’s 15-match winning streak before falling against John Isner in the semi-finals was the second longest of his career. During that streak, Del Potro beat four Top 10 players in the ATP Rankings — three of the victories coming in straight sets — including a triumph against Roger Federer, who had been undefeated in 2018 until losing to the ‘Tower of Tandil’ in the BNP Paribas Open final.
And the scary part is that Del Potro has just 355 ATP Rankings points to defend through Wimbledon. To put that in perspective, he earned 360 points for making the semi-finals in Miami. So if he can maintain his excellent form — and there is no reason at the moment to doubt that he could — Del Potro has a fantastic opportunity to climb back into the Top 5 for the first time since February 2014.
“I played well. I did a good tournament,” Del Potro said after losing to Isner. “I go home with many things to celebrate.”
Del Potro is clearly back, and perhaps better than ever. Not bad for a guy who was World No. 338 after Miami just two years ago.
(4) Thrilling End To Crandon Park era sets stage for a grand new beginning
When founder Butch Buchholz moved his tournament to Key Biscayne in 1987, he may not have known just how special of an event it would become.
Eleven World No. 1’s raised the trophy during the tournament’s stay on the island, and every winner in 32 years at the location climbed inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings at some point during their career. Only the best in the sport managed to succeed at Crandon Park.
But after 32 years of memorable tennis, Isner's victory at the Miami Open presented by Itau ended the tournament’s stay at this location. Next year, the event is moving to Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins.
"Never, ever could have imagined myself playing the last singles match at this historic site and being the winner, being the last winner here at Crandon Park," Isner said. "It's amazing. This is the best moment of my career."
And it was fitting that an amazing era came to a tremendous close with dramatic singles and doubles finals. John Isner and Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan came from a set down to win thrillers in their respective Key Biscayne finals.
(5) The Bryan Brothers Lined Up For Another Shot At No. 1
Last year was the first time since 2009 — when Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan won seven titles including the Nitto ATP Finals — that the brothers did not win at least one ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in a season. But the 39-year-olds, who turn 40 in April, added Masters 1000 trophy No. 37 to their collection on Saturday with an impressive come-from-behind win against 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifiers Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov.
And based on their early form in 2018, the Bryan brothers are once again a threat to climb back toward the top of the ATP Doubles Rankings. The Americans have won 12 of their past 14 matches, including a runner-up finish at the BNP Paribas Open. They also began their campaign by advancing to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
Only one team has earned more ATP Doubles Rankings points than the Americans (2,665) this season — Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic (3,430). And after winning their first title of the season — earning a trophy for the 18th consecutive year — who is to say the most successful tandem in history doesn’t have another run in them?
"I'm really proud of the way we're playing, how we've turned it around from a fairly rough last year," Bob Bryan said. "We're building every week. I feel like we're gaining momentum and I'm very optimistic heading into the clay-court season."