Miami Open preview, predictions and betting tips

Hannah Wilks:

Roger Federer and Ashleigh Barty are the defending champions as the Miami Open returns in 2021 but Alexander Zverev and Simona Halep are among players hotly tipped to claim the title.

Miami Open 2021 Predictions


The second half of the ‘Sunshine Double’, sometimes known as ‘March Madness’, the Miami Open returns in 2021 from 22 March-4 April.

Like Indian Wells, which it immediately follows on the calendar, the Miami Open – also known as the Miami Masters – is an ATP Masters 1000 Series event for the men and a WTA Premier Mandatory tournament for the women. For both tours, it’s one of the biggest and most prestigious tournaments on the calendar.

Cancelled in 2020 due to the global health crisis, the Miami Open returns in 2021 with its fields led by the last players to triumph: Roger Federer and Ashleigh Barty, champions in 2019 when they defeated John Isner and Karolina Pliskova respectively. Eight-time winner Serena Williams and six-time champion Novak Djokovic are among the challengers who will be looking to recapture the Miami Open title.

ATP Miami Masters 2021: Men’s Tips

Like most of the other Masters 1000 Series events, Miami has been the almost-exclusive property of the titans of tennis – since Andy Roddick won in 2010, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer have claimed the Miami Masters title every year except for 2018, when Isner defeated Alexander Zverev in the final.

Isner hobbled back to the final unexpectedly in 2019, but was crushed by Federer, who picked up his fourth title. Will the defending champion be back in 2021, however? Federer’s scheduling is tough to predict, after a 2020 season which saw him shut down for knee surgery after the Australian Open planning to be back to grass, then shut down for the rest of the year and another knee surgery once Wimbledon was cancelled.

If Federer is in the Miami Masters draw in 2021, he will obviously be among the favourites. The rate at which Federer acquires new Masters 1000 Series titles has slowed with the years, but playing best-of-three set matches is less of a strain on the body even if playing back-to-back days is tough and he’s won two of the past three Miami Opens (the exception being 2018 when he suffered a surprise loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round). More prone to those kind of freak losses than he used to be, Federer may nevertheless be revitalised by his long break from the sport when he returns in 2021 and by March he should be back in the groove, making him very difficult to beat.

Speaking of difficult to beat: Only Andre Agassi has won as many Miami Masters titles as Djokovic. Success for the Serb has dried up in recent years where Miami is concerned – his last title came in 2016, and he hasn’t made it to the quarterfinals since, skipping the event in 2017, losing early in 2018 while in the midst of a slump and losing to Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth round in 2019.

That defeat to Bautista Agut was surprising, but there’s no reason to believe that Djokovic won’t be among the favourites in Miami in 2021 – the 36-time Masters 1000 Series champion won the past three Masters events he played, after all.

Rafael Nadal can’t be forgotten, either, although the Miami Masters is one of very few prestigious events he hasn’t won. He hasn’t actually played Miami since 2017 when he made the final, the fifth time he has done so, but if he is in the field – especially if he didn’t go deep at Indian Wells – then the improvements Nadal has made to his hard-court game over the past few years will make him formidable.

Masters 1000 Series events have become increasingly open in recent years, which has everything to do with the ageing of the Big Three, Murray no longer being a top player and the fact that it’s easier for younger players to beat Djokovic, Federer and Nadal over the best of three sets as opposed to over the best of five. Be that as it may, Zverev and Daniil Medvedev now each have three Masters 1000 Series titles, and Dominic Thiem, Fabio Fognini, John Isner and Karen Khachanov are among other players to break through in the past couple of years.

Isner’s breakthrough came in Miami in 2018 when he beat Juan Martin del Potro and Zverev on his way to the title, and he returned to the final in 2019, so he’s certainly not a player to discount, but the big server is now 35 and struggling more and more with injuries. Zverev is a more positive prospect; the 23-year-old, runner-up at the US Open in 2020, is a proven Masters 1000 Series winner and his run to the final in 2018 was superb.

Medvedev, who collected his third Masters 1000 Series title in Paris in November 2020 shortly before winning the ATP Finals, has established himself as a force on American hard courts by making the US Open final in 2019 and semifinals in 2020 as well as winning the Cincinnati Masters. He has never performed well in Miami, but that has a lot to do with draws – he met Zverev early in 2018 and Federer early in 2019 – and we should expect him to be among the favourites.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem is another player who could do much better at the Miami Masters in 2021 than he has done in previous years; the Indian Wells winner of 2019 will return to Miami in 2021 as the US Open champion. Canada’s Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime both made the semifinals in Miami when the tournament was last played and although Auger-Aliassime has issues winning titles (he has made six ATP finals in 2019-20, winning none of them), either could be worth backing as an outsider to claim the Miami Masters title in 2021.

WTA Miami Open 2021: Women’s Tips

Serena Williams has enjoyed an extraordinary degree of dominance at the Miami Open, winning eight titles between 2002 and 2015. But her winning streak was snapped by Svetlana Kuznetsova in the round of 16 in 2016, and in two subsequent appearances she has failed to win back-to-back matches, beaten by Naomi Osaka in 2018 and forced by injury to give a walkover to Wang Qiang in 2019. Williams is really struggling now with chronic injury issues and having difficulty playing lengthy matches on back-to-back days, so we might not see her reclaim the Miami title in 2021.

Ashleigh Barty was the last player to win the Miami Open during her sensational season of 2019, so Miami is one of the many prizes she’ll have to defend when she returns in 2021. While Barty should have shaken off the rust of a season spent almost entirely out of competition by the time she gets to March and Miami, she’s never had to defend such a big title before and there’s no particular reason to expect it will go well.

Recent champions Sloane Stephens (2018) and Johanna Konta (2017) also don’t seem too likely to reclaim the title as both are inconsistent, although their wins do underline that opportunity is there for someone who can make a run.

One player worth backing is Simona Halep. The Romanian has never won Miami or made the final, but she does have quite a consistent record there, reaching the semifinals twice and the quarterfinals twice in the past five editions.

Naomi Osaka, who picked up her second US Open title in 2020 and is a former Indian Wells winner, has a poor record in Miami (she has failed to win back-to-back matches on her last three appearances) but could be very effective if she comes in on good form; Anett Kontaveit, who like Osaka has a big power game, shone in 2019 when she made the semifinals, and big-serving Karolina Pliskova, a former US Open finalist, has made the quarterfinals or better on her past three appearances in Miami, finishing runner-up to Barty in 2019. All three women are worth watching closely when the 2021 Miami Open takes place from 22 March-4 April 2021.