Roberto Bautista Agut, of Spain, reacts after winning a point against Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, during the Miami Open tennis tournament on March 26, 2019.
Roberto Bautista Agut, of Spain, reacts after winning a point against Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, during the Miami Open tennis tournament on March 26, 2019.|Lynne Sladky | Associated Press

Tennis: Men’s Quarterfinals at the Miami Open and Abrams picks between John Isner & Roberto Bautista-Agut

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

I probably had my worst day picking matches yesterday as I went .500. This was mainly due to some of the “nextGen” stars turning out to really be Today’s Stars. They are “nextGen” no more.

On the Women’s side, I was totally impressed that Ash Barty was able to overcome Petra Kvitova in the quarters last night, and I look forward to her being a perpetual quarter/semi-finalist on the WTA Tour as she has now moved into the world’s Top Ten. It is even more impressive that she spent almost two years not playing tennis at all, and instead playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League. She won the Wimbledon Girls title as a 15-year-old, and now at only 22, she has played in the “major leagues” in two different sports. What an athlete!

On the Men’s side, I was lucky enough to pick the RBA upset over world #1 Novak Djokovic, but I missed on the “kiddies”. Felix Auger-Aliassime totally blew me away with how he played in topping Nikoloz Basilashvili in straight sets. I keep thinking of FA2 as the 18-year-old that he is, but I have to now think of him like I think of any other seasoned veteran pro tennis player. He’s sure shown that he deserves it.

Another player that I still considered young and on the rise was America’s Frances Tiafoe. He is already 21, which is older than some of the other former next-Gen guys, but he is clearly coming into his own this year. After a gutsy run to the quarters of this year’s Australian Open, FA2 fell on some tough times, going over four weeks without winning a match. But here, he has blossomed into a real star. It opened my eyes when he beat the retiring David Ferrer (however, I remember Andre Agassi’s last match against Benjamin Becker, when the American was clearly a shell of his former self), but it impressed me to no end when he ignored his lifetime 0-3 record and overcame David Goffin last night in straight sets. I’m not prescient enough to tell whether he can get much better, but he sure seems good enough right now.

I also picked troubled Aussie Nick Kyrgios to take out 11th seeded Borna Coric, but I hedged my bet saying that if the “bad” Nick came out, all bets were off. Well, “bad Nick” showed up at the absolute wrong time for him, when he was down 4-2 in the third set. He argued with fans, hit no-look volleys and drop shots, cursed, cracked a racket, and received a point penalty for his behavior. Kyrgios entered that mysterious place that he goes to that only he knows. He stopped competing, and that was the end. However, it must be said that he hit the single most incredible shot of the tournament, and maybe of the year, when he raced back to cover a semi-lob, ran around the thing, and hit a between-the-legs winner that I’ve never seen done before. This mental patient is surely an athletic marvel. He seemed to enjoy the shot, but Coric enjoyed the win more.

Late last night, ending at 1:39 a.m., 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov took out Greece’s 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6 in the third to become the second Canadian teenager to enter the quarters in this draw. It was a shame that this match was played so late because these two guys put on an amazing display of shot-making that fulfilled every expectation I had for it. I thought that Tsitsipas was a bit too far along in his development to lose to Shapovalov, but that isn’t so. The 19-year-old is right there. The only question I have about him now, as I have for all of the younger players, is how consistently they can bring their respective excellence to the court as they travel the world and play the same tough players every week of the year. We’ll see.

So, for today, I have just one pick, as the Federer/Medvedev match, the Pliskova/Vondrousova match, and the Wang/Halep match I had picked yesterday.

Men’s Quarterfinals
John Isner over Roberto Bautista-Agut

Can RBA follow up his marvelous upset of Novak Djokovic with a win over American 7th seeded and defending champion John Isner? Of course. But will he? I wouldn’t bet on it. Isner and Djokovic play entirely different games, and I think Isner’s dominant serve will mean the difference in this match. Hell, Isner’s serve is so good that he wins 70% of his second serve points. If RBA can find the resources to return serve well and force Isner to rally, RBA will win this match, hands down, as he has the far better ground-strokes. All the pros know that this is the strategy they must use to take out the 6’10” American. But it’s far easier said than done. I like Isner here because he’s just so efficient on his delivery that I don’t think he’ll lose a service game. Two tiebreakers? Maybe. Three tiebreakers? Sure.

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