March is a special time for North American tennis fans. The days start to get longer, the snow starts to melt, the sun starts to come out, and two back-to-back premier tennis tournaments take place in a timezone that saves us from becoming zombies the next day. However, these tournaments aren’t slams, and with their strange placement in the tennis calendar, they often leave me asking “what does it all mean?”
Let’s take a look. To start, Indian Wells and Miami are the standard bearer of both how to run a tournament outside of the majors, as well as the benefits of running a combined tournament, which is becoming more and more common. They are 7 round tournaments (like the slams), however, 32 seeds get a bye, so it’s only a 96 player draw on both sides. For the men, the last to win both back to back was Fed, who did it in both 2005 and 2006 (that’s 24 straight wins combined). Agassi did it in 2001, Rios did it in 1998, Sampras did it in 1994, Chang in 1992, Courier in 1991. Miami was founded in 1985, so in 25 years, that’s 7 times the Indian Wells champion has gone on to win Miami, a remarkably high percentage by my estimation.
For the ladies, Kim did it in 2005, Serena in 2001, and Steffi did it in 1996. The ladies side of Indian Wells wasn’t held before 1989, which means that back to back wins has happened 3 times in 21 years.
For tennis writers and talking heads, finding meaning in a seemingly endless season centred around four main tournaments can be difficult. Indian Wells/Miami is an interesting combo. To win both, you get the equivalent of a slams worth in points, 2000, and need to win a daunting 12 straight matches if you’re a seed (or an insane 14 if you’re not). They’re played on hard courts, of course… however, the second Miami is done, most top players set their sights on clay, and don’t play another match until then. Still, to win a tournament of this caliber, let alone both, is a serious statement.
For me, these tournaments don’t exist in a vacuum, but they might be the closet thing that any big tournament could be. Ljubicic’s astonishing and heart warming run didn’t mean a meteoric rise to the top 10, and JJ’s victory didn’t signal a return to serious slam contention. That being said, Andy’s victory in Miami let everyone know that he can still compete at the big time, and Kim’s championship… well, she won the US Open, so take from that what you will.
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Indian Wells and Miami, especially in this day in age, is the contrast of venues. If the switch from clay to grass requires serious adjustment, so must the switch from IW to Miami. Indian Wells, placed seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere California features tons of empty practice courts, gorgeous scenery, blue skies, and a relaxed atmosphere. Miami, on the other hand, is just off Miami, one of the main (party) centres of Florida, and is busy and in your face.
This year, it’s tough to know who the favourites are going in. Nole? Kim? Possibly. Could either of them take both of them? What major upsets await?
Indian Wells and Miami might not tell you who will win Wimbledon, or even the US Open… but two things are for sure. These are two fantastic events, and there is is some seriously entertaining tennis headed our way. Enjoy the tournaments everyone.