With a number of top stars missing in Miami this week (notably Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams), it’s going to be a huge opportunity for a first-time champion.
Two players that seem to possess the most potential—if they can stay healthy—are Madison Keys and Milos Raonic.
While the start of world No. 9 Keys’ season was derailed by wrist surgery, she made a successful return at Indian Wells, reaching the fourth round.
“I think the talent is there. I think the thing for the next 12-18 months is just to be healthy. She’s just obviously been banged up a lot,” Brad Gilbert said in a phone conference last week. “...She’s incredibly under-ranked because, with her talent level, she should be Top 5.”
Keys had a strong 2016 season. She reached the fourth round at all four majors, the finals in Madrid and Montreal, won Birmingham and cracked the Top 10 for the first time. But she’s often injured, just like a similarly powerful, big-serving player: world No. 5 Raonic.
Raonic also had a breakthrough 2016, reaching his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and rising as high as No. 3. For the past few years, he has struggled repeatedly with foot, adductor and hamstring injuries, including at the Australian Open and in Delray Beach. (He withdrew from the final and then missed Indian Wells.)
“It’s really becoming more and more important to stay in shape and heal your body—that part of the game is almost like 75 percent of the game, and actually going out and playing is only 25 percent,” Chris Evert said. “It’s all about being injured and staying healthy with these long matches.”
Every time the 6’5” Canadian seems to gain some momentum, another injury sets him back.
“Unfortunately that word, ‘injury,’ is happening more,” Gilbert said. “He’s a big guy ... That definitely is the No. 1 question for him, is staying healthy.”
The 26-year-old has his eyes and heart set on becoming the first Canadian to win a major and reach No. 1, but Murray, Roger Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal don’t seem to be going anywhere, while younger players are rising fast behind him.
“These four, and throw in [Stan] Wawrinka, have been incredibly steady,” Gilbert said. “Nobody born in the ‘90s has been able to win Slams. So it’s not like it’s happening.”
While Evert is casting her dice on Alexander Zverev or Nick Kyrgios as the next new male Grand Slam champion, she is still extremely confident in Keys’ potential.
“I still think she's definitely going to win a Grand Slam, whether it's this year or next year. I think it’s in the cards for her,” she said.
But first, Keys and Raonic will have a chance at a deep Miami Open run, which could steer both of their seasons away from injury talk to major-winning gossip.
Main-draw action begins on Tuesday for the women, and on Wednesday for the men.