The structure of the ATP and WTA tours works on a graduated system, with some tournaments being worth more than others. Let’s briefly discuss this system (I promise, there is a point to this), as we get down to the topic of today’s article: tennis in Florida!
The top level of the system is the Grand Slams, unsurprisingly. They are worth the most points toward a player’s ranking, hold the most prestige, and a player’s resume is not considered complete unless he or she has won one or several.
Moving down the line, we have the ATP World Tour Finals and the WTA Tour Championships for men and women respectively. These events are quire prestigious as well, as only the top eight players on each tour are invited to compete. They serve as the season cap-off and though not as prestigious as the Slams, they are quite important to win, and the competition is often fiercer.
Now we’re into the regular tournaments. ATP Masters 1000 level events (there are nine) and their counterparts on the WTA Tour, Premier tournaments (five at the top level), which often coincide but occasionally don’t, are the meat of the schedule. Each player has to play a certain amount of these, and while all the top-ranked players are not guaranteed to be at any single event, they usually get a great draw, providing a spectacle for fans in the cities lucky enough to have them. Events include the Madrid Masters and the Miami Masters for the men, and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells for the women (again, many of these overlap).
The next level is the Olympics, which was discussed here previously. It’s great that it now means something for the rankings, giving players something other than national pride to compete for. Olympic tournaments have only gained in popularity and prestige recently, and look for them to continue to be more important in the future.
The WTA has levels of prestige built into its Premier tournaments; the ATP does not. Thus, the next two levels of the ATP, the 500 and 250 series events, are of lessening importance, and here we start to see some of the up-and-comers making their names before attempting to make waves at larger events. Examples of 500 series events include the Citi Open in Washington D.C. One 250-level event is my home tournament, the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Florida. These events are generally played by players outside the top-10 in the world and are frequented if the player happens to be from the area that the tournament is held, was enticed by some marketing offer, or was looking to get some points and move up in the rankings.
Finally, now for the action. Marin Cilic, the Croatian big man who had a strong showing at the Australian Open a few years back, making the semis, took home the prize, beating Kevin Anderson of South Africa in three tight sets. Other big names to come to this tourney included the injury-prone, always-leaving-you-wanting-more John Isner and the ageless German Tommy Haas (he’s 35). Hopefully this acts as a referendum on the efficacy of big-man tennis, something that hasn’t seen much of he spotlight in a positive way since Juan Martín del Potro defeated Roger Federer in New York in 2009. At worst though, it could serve as a confidence booster for Cilic, who has been nowhere since that hot run in Melbourne in 2010. He needs it, and his style, powerful groundstrokes and serve, needs to see the light of day.
In other news, Roger Federer has returned to good form, vaulting back into the top five in the world. He won the Dubai event and was beaten at the Indian Wells Masters by Novak Djokovic despite winning the first set. If he can somehow recover that consistency that was always his modus operandi, he can still be a force to be reckoned with. He just seems to run out of gas or confidence against Djokovic, a shame when you realize that not many players stand a chance against him these days.
It’s a good day for Florida tennis, as we’re in the middle of the Miami Masters, with competition heating up in the quarterfinals. Federer, looking strong, is there, along with Djokovic, Andy Murray, who appears to be on the road to complete recovery, the always-dangerous Czech Tomas Berdych, and the bludgeoning big man Milos Raonic of Canada. Federer lost to his quarterfinal opponent, Kei Nishikori, at the Madrid Masters last year. Yes, it was a different surface, but Nishikori has been playing well and Federer ought to be careful.
The women’s side in Miami includes the usual suspects in Serena Williams and Li Na, but Dominika Cibulkova continues to back up her finals run at the Australian Open, winning a tournament en route to this one and looking strong in Miami as well. Agnieszka Radwanska continues to showcase Polish tennis and establish herself, and even Caroline Wozniacki, the one-time U.S. Open finalist and former world number one could be headed for a resurgence.
More on Florida tennis and the conclusion of the Miami Masters next time.