Miami Open Final Preview Roger Federer Versus Rafa Nadal

Federer Nadal

Photo courtesy of Chuansong.me

The 2017 Miami Open final is the perfect venue for another Federer- Nadal final, the place where Fedal all started 13 years ago, the venue, 12 years ago, of their first ever championship match on the pro tour, and a place where both men have some unfinished business to attend to. The Tennis Review previews Fedal part 37 and predicts the winner.

Miami, a city rich in tennis history, is the perfect setting for Fedal part 37- Key Biscayne is where Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal first met in 2004 when a 17 year old Nadal notched his first win over Federer 6-3, 6-3 (back when 17 year old prodigies beat No.1s) and where the two contested their second match, in 2005, a five set final (back when ATP 1000s were Masters and finals were best of five), Federer coming back from two sets to love down to win his first Miami crown.

12 years on from that second meeting, and a lot has happened since, both men cementing their legendary status in the game, the other serving as a gauge for how far they have come and how far they have to go. Miami, though, has been one of the few locations neither man has made his own, Federer going on to win just one more title, in 2006, beating his current coach Ivan Ljubicic, (compare two Miami titles to Federer’s five Indian Wells crowns or six Madrid titles or seven Cincy trophies) and Nadal reaching three more finals, but, shockingly for arguably tennis’ greatest ever big match player, never taking the title.

Miami has also only been the setting of their rivalry on one other occasion, a 6-3, 6-2 win for Nadal in 2011, Nadal a season after completing the career Grand Slam, Federer a season before winning his first slam title for two and a half years and returning to No.1.

Now, in 2017, we come to another stage in these two great rival’s tennis lives – their resurgence. At a time, with Nadal aged 30 and Federer 35, which would have once been their twilight years, both men are still very much, after injuries and slumps, back in the limelight, Federer, ranked 6, and Nadal, 7, with both men about to re-enter the top five, and both men this season’s two slam finalists in Australia with Federer taking the title, coming back from 0-3 in the fifth versus a man who has had his number for most of their career.

Now, though, the numbers are stacking up in Federer’s favor and one of the few unfinished business matters Federer has had in his career- that head to head deficit to Nadal, the one some argue is a stain on his Greatest of all time status- is slowly beginning to be taken care of. For the first time since Miami 2004, Federer has beaten Nadal, three times in a row, in Basel ’15, Melbourne ’17, and just recently in Indian Wells, a streak that has cut the head to head deficit to a more respectable 13-23, and leveled their indoor and outdoor hard court head to head at 9-9. Streaks like those usually come to an end sooner or later, but the confidence it must give Federer- who has been at the end of three five match losing streaks to Nadal- and the hope it must install in him at a time he is strengthening his legacy, and getting more wins over Nadal is all part of that, are priceless.

Federer’s recent winning ways versus Nadal come at a time when neither player is who they used to be, but Federer, in his revamped attacking mode is the player he needs to be at 35 while Nadal has struggled with the tennis ageing process, and though he has found ways around the decline of the strength and speed which were his weapons, when, in Melbourne earlier this season, the biggest match of his last two and a half years went the distance, his loss of a step exposed him, his ground-strokes which needed to be deep plonked into the shallow end of the court, he, one of the game’s greatest drivers at the wheel, let his foot of the gas and dropped a lead in the fifth, and, in a rivalry which had seen him the dominant one in slam finals, he was now second best.

Federer

Photo courtesy of Colombia.as.com

Miami, though, however prestigious it may be in the history of ATP 1000s, is no Australian Open. Nadal had come off a grueling five setter versus Grigor Dimitrov in the semis, and the faster hard courts suited Federer more than they did him. Miami, meanwhile, has been kinder than Melbourne to Nadal who, after a patchy Florida first round versus Dudi Sela and a disastrous start versus Philipp Kohlschreiber defeated Nicholas Mahut and Jack Sock, both aggressive first strike players, in straights, and then dealt with the dangerous Fabio Fognini 6-1, 7-5.

The Spaniard has positively cruised through the draw compared to Federer who had to deal with the hype and emotion of facing good friend Juan Martin del Potro, needed two tiebreaks versus Roberto Bautista Agut, lost his first set since Dubai to Tomas Berdych in the quarters, saving match points in the final set tiebreak, and then needed to play three tiebreakers versus Nicholas Kyrgios in an emotionally draining encounter in the semis.

Luckily for Federer he has a day to rest, and those matches versus Berdych and Kyrgios will at least mean he is battle ready. He will need to be versus Nadal. The Spaniard was already back in the gym after beating Fognini and we only have to look as far as Nadal’s trophy cabinet to see why- the  Spaniard has unfinished business he has to attend to, the case of a missing trophy, the Miami Open. Miami, once known as tennis’ fifth slam, not featuring on his resume, must be a huge motivator for the Spaniard, and after four runner up finishes (Federer ’05, Davydenko ’08, Djokovic ’11, ’14), Nadal must be feeling it is finally his time to bite the Miami Open champion’s silverware.

Who wants the Miami Open 2017 trophy most could be the decider in this match if, like Federer’s last two matches, this one comes down to the wire. If Nadal is feeling fresh enough and can employ the heavy top spin game he needs over two hours, the game which will give Federer problems on these gritty slow courts, he could grit his way to a win, and only grit is going to get him past the attacking game of Federer which if on will render whatever strategy Nadal employs redundant, and only grit is what will get Nadal past what might feel at times like a crowd out to get him, though Nadal will have plenty of support with Spanish speakers aplenty in the stadium.

Nadal won’t worry about the crowd, though, he has lived his whole tennis life putting tennis’ darling to the sword, five times before the Roland Garros crowd who until Federer’s win over Kyrgios in the semis were once known as the most hostile in tennis. Nadal won’t be worried at all by what is going on court side in fact, he will instead be focusing on the court, on winning the title and putting himself in the position of favorite going into the clay court season where he has some history of his own to work on, the prospect of La Decima and becoming the first man to win ten Majors at one venue.

Federer will be in his own world, too, at a time when he is, in the past three months anyway, on top of the tennis world. The Swiss will not play as many events this season as his top five rivals, and another 1000 points which the Miami title would give him, when he already leads the Race to London by 1,410 points (Federer has 3,065 points to second place Nadal’s 1,365) would help him in his pursuit of the only number that matters to him rankings wise- No.1. A Miami trophy would also mean Federer had won every big title going into the clay season where Madrid might be the only trophy he lifts, and with Wimbledon his best chance for the second slam that would help his 2017 No.1 ambitions no end, all the big titles he can get will give him the confidence he needs to win Slam No.19. That’s the world Federer currently rules, and he will be locked in on the Miami courts, his eyes on the ball, his mind in the now, not looking up to enjoy what has become a bewitching sunset on the horizon until the final point is done.

Confidence, history, momentum in the rivalry, and some unfinished business, Federer and Nadal have everything to play for in the Miami Open final, and they have their greatest rival to battle for it, and no better place than the Miami Open, where it all started, where we first got an idea of how great some of their finals would be and a glimpse of what they would come to mean to each other, to play it out.

Prediction: The final will be played at 1pm in temperatures of 28 degrees and in 66% humidity, conditions which will help Federer’s serve  and aggressive shots fly through the court and potentially give him the chance to win this match in straights.

However, while the match will be played in faster conditions, the court is still a medium slow hard court and high bouncing, and the trajectory of Nadal’s shots are going to be very different than what Federer dealt with versus Berdych and Kyrgios. Nadal has the ability to keep Federer back and if he finds some depth of shot and plays aggressively, the Spaniard could take control of the match and win his first ATP 1000 hard court event since Indian Wells ’13.

The way 2017 is panning out, this just feels like Nadal’s title to win. He will have to do it the hard way, though, in three, but the Spaniard probably would not have it any other way.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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