A Big Tennis Tournament Is About to Happen in Miami. Really.

There is a major tennis event starting its major draw in Miami this week. It is likely one of the most essential annual occasions in the game, attracting tons of of gamers from all around the world, together with a number of Grand Slam winners, competing for one of many largest prize purses of the yr.

So why doesn’t it really feel that means?

Maybe it’s as a result of a number of of the most important names in the game — together with the grand troika of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the lads’s sport, plus Serena Williams — are skipping the occasion. Or as a result of attendance shall be restricted to a most of 1,000 spectators a day, in contrast with almost 400,000 over two weeks in 2019, regardless of state guidelines in Florida that will enable way more.

Maybe it’s as a result of the Miami Open is happening with out the opening act of the March winter onerous court docket swing, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., which officers in the state wished no a part of in the winter when an infection charges had been surging in Southern California.

Or perhaps it’s as a result of the Miami Open is a microcosm of tennis in 2021 — an unpredictable puzzle of participant scheduling, journey advisories and well being precautions in a season that has compelled gamers to set priorities in a means they by no means have earlier than. Many, particularly the most important stars, now view tournaments not merely as a way to compete or an opportunity for a paycheck however for whether or not an occasion matches into their broader life.

“It’s so many different reasons,” James Blake, the previous participant who’s the event director in Miami, stated when requested what has influenced gamers’ choices to play or skip the occasion. “As a former tour player, I can tell you are programmed to want to compete against the best players in the world. That is always your main motivation.”

Except when it isn’t. Williams withdrew Sunday, saying she had not totally recovered from current oral surgical procedure. Djokovic, who’s the top-ranked males’s participant and recovering from a torn stomach muscle, pulled out Friday afternoon. Djokovic’s administration company, the sports activities and leisure conglomerate, W.M.E.-I.M.G., owns the Miami Open, however that was not sufficient for him to make the journey. He introduced on Twitter that he had “decided to use this precious time at home to stay with my family. With all restrictions, I need to find balance in my time on tour and at home.”

Daniil Medvedev, the world No. 2 and a 2021 Australian Open finalist, is taking part in, as are the rising stars Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev. But the ladies’s draw, which incorporates Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep, could present a lot of the warmth.

Nadal introduced earlier this month that he was skipping Miami to proceed therapeutic his sore again and to put together for the spring clay-court season, throughout which he often excels.

Roger Federer, the defending champion in Miami who returned to professional tennis earlier this month after two knee surgical procedures and a 14-month hiatus, stated his aim is to be 100 % wholesome for Wimbledon in late June. A two-week jaunt to the United States for a single onerous court docket occasion didn’t make sense. He additionally has not dedicated to taking part in a lot on clay this season.

Austria’s Dominic Thiem, the 2020 United States Open champion, is slumping and taking a go. Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, a three-time Grand Slam winner, stated he was too drained. Nick Kyrgios lives in Australia, which has strict quarantine guidelines for vacationers, and has but to determine how a lot tennis he needs to play this yr.

It is the brand new regular of tennis. To play or not to play is an advanced query, and an surprising results of that’s Miami foreshadows what tennis will seem like finally. No Big Three. No Serena Williams.

“It’s always nice to have two of the biggest names in sports on your air, but there is so much talent out there and that gives the chance for different stories to be told,” stated Ken Solomon, chief govt of The Tennis Channel, which can air 125 hours of reside protection of the occasion in the United States. “We get 128 phenomenal athletes competing in this thing, you don’t start thinking about who is not there.”

For months in the United States, many sports activities have roughly proceeded, at the same time as most individuals confronted vital limitations on journey and speak to with these outdoors their households. The N.F.L. held a Super Bowl with 22,000 followers, the N.C.A.A. began two Division I basketball tournaments with 132 groups from throughout the nation descending on the Indianapolis and San Antonio areas, and hockey gamers scrap cheek-to-jowl on the ice each night time.

However, with Florida essentially ridding itself of most pandemic-related restrictions, the roles of have flipped. Players arrived in Florida in the course of the previous few days together with spring break revelers who’re filling Florida’s seashores, bars and nightclubs. The gamers, who’re used to indulging in Miami’s tradition, eating places and nightlife when they aren’t taking part in tennis, live underneath strict tips that the lads’s and ladies’s tennis excursions created to hold them as protected as potential.

During the event, they have to reside in certainly one of two lodges for gamers and officers. Had she performed, Williams couldn’t have commuted from her dwelling, roughly 75 minutes away. The gamers’ motion is proscribed to the event and the lodge. No ventures to Joe’s Stone Crab, South Beach or Coconut Grove till they’ve misplaced.

“It does make it harder when you are part of the bubble,” Lauren Davis, the veteran U.S. participant, stated. “The experience is more draining. There is no outlet for the stress.”

Miami Open organizers didn’t assemble the momentary 14,000-seat court docket contained in the Miami Dolphins’ stadium this yr. The most essential matches will happen on three smaller courts.

Prize cash has been slashed to $6.7 million from $16.7 million in 2019, although it’s among the many largest prize purses outdoors of the Grand Slams and the tour finals. Nearly everybody on the event website could have to put on a masks always, apart from gamers whereas they’re on the court docket.

Tennis will possible look this fashion for a while. The All England Club, the host of Wimbledon, introduced final week that gamers could have to keep in specified lodges for the event, set to start in late June, regardless of Britain’s success with its vaccine program. Crowd sizes shall be diminished and spectators won’t be able to line up in the course of the day to seek for a ticket.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, ranked No. 5 on the lads’s tour, stated throughout final week’s event in Acapulco, Mexico, that the tour sorely missed Indian Wells this yr as a result of it gathers so many prime gamers in entrance of rabid and informal tennis followers in the United States in the course of the first half of the yr. The alternative to play in entrance of a crowd of any measurement — Acapulco allowed roughly 3,000 spectators for every session — had vastly enhanced the expertise.

“I feel really connected,” he stated of the expertise of taking part in in entrance of followers. “I feel like I can enjoy the game.”

But the challenges of the pandemic have compelled Tsitsipas and different gamers to focus virtually solely on bigger tournaments in the intervening time, and the most important stars to focus virtually solely on the Grand Slams. Events like Miami could provide loads of cash and rankings factors, however every part is just a bit completely different this yr.

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