Nick's Picks will be coming to you live from The Sony Ericsson Open from March 25th-29th. Follow along for predictions, picks, and insight into the tournament on the blog and on TennisWeek.com.
Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Frederico Gil (POR)
Nadal took the court for the first time on Saturday night and wasted little time in beating Teimuraz Gabashvili. Thus far in 2009, Nadal has won both big tournaments (Australian Open and Indian Wells) and his record is a sparkling 22-2. He is looking to win this title for the first time in his career, and it would just add to the already amazing year he is having.
Gil played very well against Ivo Karlovic in the second round, beating the giant Croat 6-4, 6-4. This is Gil's first appearance in Miami, and a win over Nadal would be the biggest victory of his career. He is an exciting guy to watch, and the fans down here have really taken to him.
This is the first career meeting between Nadal and Gil, and promises to be interesting just because of the Spain vs. Portugal aspect. Both countries have passionate fans and they will be out in full-force to support their man! For a little guy, Gil has a big-time serve and excellent groundstrokes. He covers the court very well and will battle and scrap for every point. Against Karlovic, he was able to pound balls to the Croat's backhand and wait for errors. That same tactic won't work against Nadal. Gil absolutely cannot hope that Nadal is going to make unforced errors, he is going to have to put pressure on Nadal and attack whenever he can. Nadal will do what he does best: wear down his opponent with relentless topspin forehands and a wicked two-handed backhand. Gil will fight to the end, but Nadal just has too much.
Nick's Pick - Nadal in 2 sets
Andy Murray (GBR) vs. Nicolas Massu (CHI)
Murray needed three sets to dispense of Juan Monaco in the second round, and is coming off of a finals appearance last week at Indian Wells (where he beat Roger Federer). He reached the semis in Miami back in 2007 and I believe he has his sites set on the title this years.
Massu came back from a set down to beat American Mardy Fish in the second round, which was a very difficult with the crowd behind Fish. Coming into the tournament he had a paltry record of 1-6 on the year, but he has demonstrated in the past that he can play with the best.
Murray is 1-0 against Massu with that win coming at Wimbledon back in 2006. Massu is a bit of a spunky player. He doesn't have a huge game that is going to overpower you, but he doesn't really have any glaring weaknesses either. Often times players will make more unforced errors than they are used to when playing Massu, which is something Murray is going to have to stay away from. If you want to win, you are going to have to earn it against him. Murray is more aggressive, will hit more winners, and has a slightly better serve than Massu. Because of where Massu stands on the court (behind the baseline) it will be a good idea for Murray to hit some angled shots and keep Massu out wide. Murray cannot underestimate Massu as I think this is going to be a difficult match with long rallies and points.
Nick's Pick - Murray in 2 long sets, could go 3
Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA)
Mathieu beat the ever-dangerous Marcos Baghdatis in the second round in three sets and now has a much tougher task at hand with Djokovic. Mathieu spent time at the NBTA when he was in his early teens, and you will not find a nicer guy on the tour. In this match, he is going to have to forget about the pleasantries and take it to Djokovic from the get-go!
Djokovic, the 2007 Sony Ericsson Open champion, comes into this tournament with a 17-7 record on the year and a title in Dubai already under his belt. He is a crowd-pleaser, but he must stay focused at all times in this match because Mathieu has the talent to send him home.
Djokovic is 3-1 against Mathieu, and has already beaten him once this year. They did meet in Miami back in 2006 and Djokovic won in straight sets. Mathieu has a killer forehand, a solid serve, but his backhand is neutral at best. In this match he is going to have to try and hit forehands as much as possible to keep Djokovic pinned back behind the baseline. He also cannot get frustrated and show any negative emotions because he had a tendency to do that at times.
Djokovic can do a little bit of everything. Both his forehand and backhand are weapons and his serve is definitely more powerful than Mathieu's. What he has to do is stay away from the unforced errors, because Mathieu will not waste any opportunity he is given. I give Djokovic the edge, but this will be a very interesting match.
Nick's Pick - Djokovic in 2, could go 3 if the unforced errors pile up!
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) vs. Robert Kendrick (USA)
Kendrick qualified for the tournament and has worked his way into the third round. He already has wins over Arnaud Clement and Robin Soderling. I have always been impressed by Kendrick's game, but I think the one thing he needs to do more is come forward. This would put pressure on his opponents and really help his game.
Tsonga is one of my favorites to watch because of his intensity level and his competitiveness. He fights for every point and is a warrior out on the court. He is still trying to prove to everyone that he can play with the big boys, and this would be a good tournament to demonstrate that.
This will be the first career match between Kendrick and Tsonga. For a big guy, Kendrick moves well, has solid groundstrokes and a great serve. The problem is, Tsonga does all of those things too, just better. For Kendrick to win, he is going to have to force the action throughout the match and force Tsonga into mistakes. As much as the American fans want that to happen, it is going to be difficult to do against this Frenchman.
Nick's Pick - Tsonga in 2 sets