Konta, Dimitrov, Cilic… who most needs a Miami boost?

Published by Vivienne Christie

Johanna Konta won the biggest title of her career in Miami last year; Getty Images
As the tennis world moves on to Miami, some star players are already under pressure to find their form. Here are the 10 most in need of kickstarting their 2018 in Key Biscayne.

1. Johanna Konta

Remember when Britain’s No.1 woman stunned Simona Halep, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki to win 2017 Miami? It’s easy not to in a year that started with a Brisbane quarterfinal but soon crumbled with a loss to 123rd-ranked Bernarda Pera in the AO2018 second round. More recently, little-known Marketa Vondrousova stunned Konta in her Indian Wells opener. A current No.14 position seems a long way removed from the career-high No.4 Konta achieved just eight months ago. Rebuilding urgently required.

2. Grigor Dimitrov

From the promise of his rise to world No.3 after victory at the 2017 ATP Finals, Dimitrov has arguably delivered relatively little. The Rotterdam final is the high point of a season that so far includes a loss to the inexperienced Kyle Edmund in the AO quarterfinals, along with consecutive opening-round losses to No.117 Malek Jaziri (Dubai) and No.27 Fernando Verdasco (Indian Wells). While we’ve come to expect the two-steps-forward-one-step-back nature of Dimitrov’s career, consistency is becoming a more pressing priority.

3. Garbine Muguruza

It’s been a puzzling year for the reigning Wimbledon champion and recent world No.1. Injury was a factor in a lacklustre Australian summer (incorporating a second-round Brisbane retirement, Sydney withdrawal and third-round loss to Su-Wei Hsieh in Melbourne). But after pushing Petra Kvitova to three sets in the Doha final and reaching the Dubai semis, a three-sets loss to qualifier Sachia Vickery in the opening round of Indian Wells was troubling. If the world No.3 can’t claim the title, she’d at least love an improvement on career-best fourth-round runs she’s achieved on four occasions.

4. Jack Sock

A top-10 ranking, now surrendered, has been a sadly inaccurate reflection of Sock this season. From his first five events, he won just two matches, with losses coming against qualifiers, wildcards and opponents from outside the top-50. Home soil is typically a happy hunting ground for the American, who reached the Indian Wells semis and Miami quarterfinals last season. Will that add confidence or create pressure as Sock targets a turnaround this fortnight?

5. Sloane Stephens

A baffling eight straight defeats followed Sloane Stephens’ surprise US Open victory before a quarterfinal run at Acapulco and a first-round win (over the returning Victoria Azarenka) at Indian Wells at last marked a turnaround. Now comes the challenge for Stephens to further rebuild momentum at Miami, where she was a quarterfinalist three years ago. A boost could come from the knowledge that, after an injury-enforced absence in 2017, she’s playing without the pressure of defending any rankings points.  

6. Marin Cilic

We’re not hitting the panic button on Cilic quite yet. He is, after all, the current No.3 and runner-up at two of the past three Grand Slams. Still, after pushing Roger Federer to five sets in the Australian Open decider, the Croat promptly declared his world No.1 intentions. After losses to sub-top 30 opponents in Gael Monfils and Philipp Kohlschreiber (Rio and Indian Wells respectively), Cilic needs to remind many of his elite position.

7. Agnieszka Radwanska

While quarterfinal runs at Auckland and Sydney to start 2018 highlighted enduring ability, it seems increasingly difficult for Radwanska to regain her former world No.2 status. Without winning as much as a set in consecutive first-round losses at Dubai and Indian Wells, the 2012 Wimbledon finalist has slipped to world No.32. Rebuilding that ranking is an important priority given that it links to an all-important seeding at big tournaments.

8. Alexander Zverev

This is not so much a case of needing a big result as due one. In hindsight, there was no shame to Zverev’s five set third-round loss to Hyeon Chung at AO2018, or in a semifinal exit to Juan Martin del Potro at Acapulco. But after a first-up loss to world No.72 Joao Sousa at Indian Wells, the world No.5 will be keen to match or improve on his 2017 Miami quarterfinal. Taking down John Isner and Stan Wawrinka then pushing Nick Kyrgios to three sets was an important marker in Zverev’s breakthrough season; a year on, anything less seems troubling.

9. Eugenie Bouchard

After a brutal first round loss to Vickery at Indian Wells, the odds admittedly don’t favour a Bouchard turnaround at Miami either: she’s claimed back-to-back match wins at the tournament just once in five appearances. The bigger issue is that the former world No.5 and current No.115 must make it through qualifying to earn main draw entry. The high need might be the impetus required for the Canadian, whose previously lucrative sponsorships are reported to be dwindling as dramatically as her ranking.

10. Novak Djokovic

Granted, the post-elbow injury Djokovic is a long way removed from the one who has previously won six Miami titles – as early losses to then No.58 Hyeon Chung (at AO2018) and world No.107 qualifier Taro Daniel (Indian Wells) have demonstrated. Still, at world No.12 the rebuilding has to start somewhere; with zero rankings points to defend after his 2017 absence, Miami marks the perfect time for the “new” Novak to start resembling the old one.

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