Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Felix Auger Aliassime as well as Llyod Harris against Roberto Bautista Agut.
ATP 1000 Series
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida
Selected Round of 64 Matches- 26th March
Pierre-Hugues Herbert (15/10) vs Felix Auger Aliassime (11) (51/100)
Pierre-Hugues Herbert isn’t exactly the type of ‘rank outsider’ that you would like to meet at this stage of the tournament. Firstly, he does possess the career Grand Slam in Doubles. That highlights an appreciation for the big stage. But Herbert has also appeared in four ATP Finals in his singles career. Furthermore, they have all been played on hardcourts. The most significant result was his recent run to the finals of the Open 13. He actually beat Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way. Perhaps of more significance was his nail-biting loss in the final. He pushed hardcourt fanatic Danil Medvedev all the way in a pulsating match. it highlighted how dangerous Herbert can be (despite relative lack of singles form). He thrashed Sousa in the opening round and won’t be a pushover on this stage. He has the ability to go toe-to-toe with superior players, using his unique doubles perspective to create favourable angles on court.
It’s hard to believe that Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime is still just 20. He must be one of the most unpredictable players on the tour. Much like his opponent, he is still yet to taste victory on the ATP Singles circuit. He has lost all seven finals that he has reached thus far! That included an October final in Germany and the Murray River Open final earlier this year. But his form surrounding those events have been erratic at best. He ended 2020 with three consecutive first round defeats. And he has already lost in the opening round of Rotterdam this year. I would hazard to guess that youngsters like Aliassime and Gauff have probably been affected most by all the Covid restrictions. The more seasoned veterans generally have the accumulated wisdom to deal with all the quarantine procedures. Just imagine being 20 years of age and living through this era of men’s tennis. He does love this arena though, making it to the semi-finals in the very first edition hosted at Miami Gardens in 2019.
This is an intriguing battle of the triple-barrelled names. They currently sit at 1-1 in the head-to-head stakes. Interestingly, both those matches came during last year’s French hardcourt swing. While the Canadian should ostensibly have too much for the Frenchman, there may be some value in opting for the three-set Aliassime win at 11/4. Herbert’s amazing run in Rotterdam gives him a slugger’s chance in this match.
Llyod Harris (11/8) vs Roberto Bautista Agut (7) (4/7)
Roberto Bautista Agut has shaken off some of his poor post-Covid form and put in some stirring performances this season. The Spanish hardcourt specialist has already reached finals in France and Qatar. The Qatari performance was perhaps the most remarkable. He beat top seed Dominic Thiem before crushing current ATP 500 demigod Andrey Rublev. But there have also been some low points (chief of which was a slightly embarrassing first round exit from the Aussie Open). He also never won a match in Dubai last week, advancing to the 2nd round courtesy of a walkover. Which Bautista Agut will appear this week? He has some history at this venue, reaching the quarterfinal at the inaugural staging here at Hard Rock Stadium. That included a win against six-time champion Novak Djokovic. But he’s going to have his hands full with one of the more nightmarish round of 64 draws.
Llyod Harris just won his maiden match at Masters 1000 level. He beat American qualifier Emilio Nana after Andy Murray had to withdraw following a ‘freak’ groin injury. Last week the big-serving South African had a tremendous run in Dubai. Coming through qualifying, Harris claimed seven wins in seven days. His run to the final was at Grand Slam difficulty level. He beat top seed Dominic Thiem before overcoming the likes of Nishikori and Shapovalov. Harris is an up-and-coming prospect who seems to be maturing by the minute. Prior to his Dubai run he had beaten his idol Stan Wawrinka in Qatar. He will look to keep Bautista Agut on the back foot with his powerful serve and forehand.
This will be the first between these two. I really think there’s real value in the South African. These fast North American courts should be ideally suited to this game.