Miami Open talking points: Is there any stopping Roger Federer, will Stan Wawrinka justify top seeding, and can Angelique Kerber get season going?

Miami Open talking points: Is there any stopping Roger Federer, will Stan Wawrinka justify top seeding, and can Angelique Kerber get season going?

The world's top two Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic may have pulled out of the tournament with injury, but there is plenty of intrigue ahead of the second Masters event of the year. 

Is there any stopping Federer? 

What a few months it's been for Roger Federer. After missing most of last year through injury Federer's comeback has been nothing short of miraculous, taking in the Australian Open title in January and then Indian Wells last week. 

The Swiss looks fresher than he has done in years and is hitting his backhand better than at any point in his career. He gave a masterclass on that wing against Rafael Nadal in a fourth-round evisceration on Thursday and is now up to No 6 in the world. 

The question now is whether Federer should recalibarate his aims for the year and go for broke at the French Open, having hinted that he may need to save himself for Wimbledon by not playing a full clay-court season. 

Federer will also be thinking that the No 1 ranking is within his grasp if he can keep dominating, and Murray and Djokovic continue to struggle with form and fitness. 

If he plays as he did in Indian Wells, it's hard to see anyone getting close to Federer in Miami. 

CE

Roger Federer is in majestic form

Will Kerber get back on track?

David Law described Angelique Kerber's position as world No 1 despite her ongoing struggles as 'awkward' on The Tennis Podcast, and it was hard to disagree with him. 

Kerber has not won a tournament since claiming the top spot at last year's US Open, and she is under no illusion that it is only Serena Williams' frequent absences that are keeping her at No 1. 

The German is yet to reach a final this year, and was hammered 6-3, 6-3 at the last-16 stage of Indian Wells by Elena Vesnina last week. 

For the sake of her own well-being and the credibility of the WTA rankings, Kerber desperately needs to have a good run in Miami, especially with Williams absent once again. 

CE

Can Wawrinka live up to top billing?

Stan Wawrinka has come to terms with the fact he will never emerge from Swiss compatriot Roger Federer's shadow - whatever he does.

He might be the top-ranked player in his homeland but even after winning three grand slams over the last three years, he is yet to gain the recognision his achievements warrant or deserve.

In Miami he finally has that chance to step out of the darkness. In the absence of injured duo Djokovic and Murray, Wawrinka is top seed in Florida. The main man. He can finally beat his chest and prove that Stanimal has what it takes to live up to the billing.

Stan Wawrinka is now top seed in Miami

In his run to the Indian Wells final last week, Wawrinka went about his business the hard way in the early rounds. He won battles against Yoshihito Nishioka and Dominic Thiem in third set tie-breaks before ending Spaniard's Pablo Carreno Busta's spirited run in the semi-finals in straight sets.  

So often Wawrinka saves his best for the final rounds of a major tournament. No one gave him a chance of beating Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2015 yet his lethal backhand blew the Serb off course. Even in his first major final and maiden slam triumph against Rafa Nadal in Melbourne three years ago he was written off before stepping onto the court.

What will trouble Wawrinka is his poor record in Miami. The world No 3's record has in fact got worse year on year. But if he can steer his way through the early hurdles, a second Masters 1000 title could be his for the taking - and with it a hefty chunk of ranking points to help cut the huge deficit on absentees Djokovic and Murray in the process.

VH

Has Sock cemented his place as America's top male player?

Not since 2003 has an American men's player won a grand slam but the progress being made by Jack Sock this year gives the US cause for optimism that their drought could be ending soon.

The 24-year-old's run at Indian Wells saw him record his first top-five win with victory over Kei Nishikori and into his first Masters semi-finals.

Sock's heroics in the desert  - which also saw him save four match points against Grigor Dimitrov in the third round - comes off the back of winning two ATP titles already this season on the outdoor hard courts at Delray Beach and the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Jack Sock reached the last four at Indian Wells

Sock supplanted John Isner as the top-ranked American male last October and he can extend that lead over his compatriot with another solid run in Miami.

The right-hander, nicknamed Showtime, came unstuck in the last four against Federer at Indian Wells but having broken into the top 20 this season for the first time there is an increasing mumble on the circuit that Sock could be the future of America's men's tennis.

They've been waiting long enough for their next big thing. Not since Andy Roddick zipped up his racquet bag for one last time in 2012 has there been an American who has come close to winning a major.

Ryan Harrison was once that great big hope but failed to live up to expectations. Could it really be 'Showtime' for Sock in the very near future?

VH

Can Kuznetsova use Indian Wells form to go one step further in Miami?

"I'm too old," Svetlana Kuznetsova said of her chances of winning Miami last year having just ended Serena Williams' 20-match winning streak at Key Biscayne.

The Russian was only 30 at the time but her run took her into the final where only Victoria Azarenka denied her of a second title in the Sunshine State a decade after her first.

A year on, Kuznetsova returns to Florida with a bright and breezy outlook. Fresh from an impressive showing at Indian Wells - albeit one which saw her suffer defeat in the final to compatriot Elena Vesnina - Kuznetsova looks primed to go one step further in Miami this time around.

An experienced performer, Kuznetsova defeated 2015 US Open finalist Roberto Vinci and world No 3 Karolina Pliskova during her run in the desert last week.

Kuznetsova returned to the top 10 last June and hasn't looked back

Since returning to the world top 10 last June for the first time in eight years, Kuznetsova has shown her battling qualities and consistency which landed her grand slam titles back in 2009 at Roland Garros and 2004 at Flushing Meadows.

The Williams sisters continue to prove that age is just a number. Kuznetsova's high-energy style undoubtedly takes its toll on her body but mentally she is a tough cookie and is one to keep a close eye on in Miami and going forward to the clay court season.

VH

What's eating 'La Monf'?

After reaching a career high of No 6 in the world last November, the mercurial Gael Monfils has made a mixed start to 2017.

He reached the quarter-finals in Marseille and Dubai, but wilted against Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open fourth round and was comprehensively eliminated at the same stage of Indian Wells by Dominic Thiem last week.

But what was strange about the Thiem defeat was that prior to the match Monfils released a statement on Twitter professing how disappointed he was with his performances this year. 

Monfils wrote: ''In all honesty, the start of the year has been a little disappointing and below my expectations. I realize that there are always some difficult times to go through during a season and that I need to continue to work to overcome this situation.

''My focus is on fine tuning my preparation for the tournaments to come and find some confidence again. With this being said, we might need to make some adjustments to the schedule that we established at the end of last year.

''I am even more thrilled to benefit from the support of my team at this time. I know I can rely on them and the daily energy they bring me is key to getting back on track. I am committed to work hard, and  hope to find myself again in a position to compete for the big titles.''

Publicly admitting that he has been struggling was a strange move on the eve of a match, and it was hard to know what his coach Mikael Tillstrom made of the statement.

An always intriguing character, we will get a better idea of Monfils' state of mind in Miami this week. 

CE

Will Vesnina prove to be a late bloomer?

There was a time when turning 30 was the death knell for a tennis player's career, but not so now. 

Federer and the Williams sisters are of course tennis's most celebrated 'golden oldies' but Stan Wawrinka has won two of his three majors since entering his fourth decade, and the less heralded Flavia Pennetta won her maiden slam at the US Open in 2015 aged 33. 

Russia's Elena Vesnina is hoping she can eventually add her name to that list after winning the biggest title of her career at Indian Wells last week at the age of 30, having reached her first ever grand slam semi-final at Wimbledon last year.

Slight of build, Vesnina was ultimately overpowered by Serena Williams at SW19, but she overcame another big hitter in Svetlana Kuznetsova on Sunday to win the Indian Wells final, and posted notable victories over Venus Williams and Kerber earlier on in the week. 

Now it's onto Miami, and with Kerber out of sorts, Serena out injured, and Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka absent, opportunity knocks for the Russian. 

CE

Please review our commenting policy