Roger Federer Defeats Rafa Nadal Wins Miami Open Prime Time Revival Rival

Federer Miami Open

Photo courtesy of twitter.com

Roger Federer’s 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Rafa Nadal to win the Miami Open drew the curtain on a remarkable first quarter to 2017, a showstopping revival, even surprising himself as he won the title for the first time since 2006, the same year he also took the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, a revival so good it rivals those prime time day themselves. 

Miami might even be Federer’s most surprising run of 2017 yet. The Swiss had not been to the final since 2006, (whereas he had last won in Australian in 2010 and had made the semis in ’16, and had been to the finals of the last two Indian Wells he had played in), and at 35 few thought he would have the energy to continue from Indian Wells where he left off, holding aloft another ATP 1000 trophy, and beating Rafa Nadal on his way too, the Spaniard more at home in the slower Miami conditions, and pumped up to finally win the trophy after four runner up finishes.

Yet, despite a tough early draw of Frances Tiafoe (Federer is known to struggle in first matches versus young up and comers), Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine an early round upset expert since coming back last season, and Roberto Bautista Agut who has the baseline skills to keep Federer’s attack at bay on a slow court and bother him, Federer rode the flow of momentum from California, not dropping a set until his quarter-final versus Berdych, who came back from match point down to beat Federer in Miami 2010, in which the Swiss dropped his first set in 9 matches, a change in the tide which turned Federer’s journey towards a third Miami Open title into the work out always looked like it would be, Miami’s medium slow court demanding the very best from Federer’s game, the kind of best he showed back in 2005 and 2006 when he won the title, when Men’s tennis was the Roger Federer Show on Prime Federer Time TV.

Since 2006, conditions changed the tennis channel, the athletic, stamina-driven baseline games of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray getting the better of Federer mid-court and at the net, forcing Federer to base himself back at the baseline where, with his forehand and one handed backhand, he was still formidable- he won three slams in 2007, one in 2008, two in 2009, one in 2010, one in 2012– but the baseline was not where he belonged. Federer belonged center stage, and when in 2014 he returned with a revamped aggressive game which sent him flying up there, and back up the rankings, back in slam finals and winning ATP 1000s, the crowds responded, cheering him on for an encore of another slam title, more ATP 1000s, and now, the next step, another stint at the top of the tennis rankings.

Never has crowd support for Federer been more passionately boisterous than at this year’s Miami Open as Federer fought past Tomas Berdych and then Nick Kyrgios in third set tiebreakers, the prospect of a complete sweep of the season’s first three big titles for the first time since 2006 a feat Federer supporters did not just have to imagine but could realistically expect. Against Kyrgios, the crowd were mean-spirited in their high spirits, cheering Kyrgios’ faults, heckling him, calling out mid rally in the final set tiebreaker. Kyrgios, so easily cast as the villian in the piece, could see the logic in the madness, though, saying Federer, after all he had done in the sport, earned such blind devotion in a match in which the Australian was arguably the better performer.

Yeah, the crowd was obviously on his side, but I think I have to win a little bit more to start getting them on my side

There was no doubt as to who played better in the Miami final, though. In 2017, Federer came full circle from when he last won in Key Biscayne versus current coach Ivan Ljubicic in 2006, his aggressive game executed so well his opponent’s defensive skills never had a chance of really getting under his skin, Federer’s serve, return and second ball of a quality Kyrgios said in his post semi match interview no other player on tour could match.

He’s just such a good — his serve and first shot is I think by far the best on tour. I’ve played all the Top 4, a lot of the top guys, and his first two shots, it’s so hard to do anything against. You feel like you’re making a return, and then he’s right on it and hits a winner.

Here was Federer doing what he should have always done versus Nadal, seeing the attacking plan out from start to finish, a Federer now playing that attacking game as well as he had when he won Miami in 2005 and 2006, with a confidence missing back in 2011 when Nadal beat him in Miami in straights. A Federer with Nadal no longer in his head because across the net is as different a Nadal as he is a different Federer, a Nadal compromised by age and injury while Federer has taken age and injury on, and won.

Federer won that fight by rebooting the game he first came onto the tour with, taking on the serve and the second ball with variety, technical mastery and trust in his instincts. Federer’s first serve went in 63% of the time (the same as Nadal’s), with Federer winning an impressive 87% of points behind that delivery (34/39, compare that to Nadal’s 27/41). Nadal just edged ahead in the second set battle 50-48%, but he did not get a look in at enough of those second serves, particularly in the second set which would have, once upon a time, been when the Spaniard would have carved out his chances and sanded them down.

Federer denied him that chance, getting better as the match went on. The Swiss was 58% on first serve in the first set, a little low to really ensure victory over Nadal, with 86% points won, and 38% on second serve, and faced four break points, but in the second set, he went 71-88-71, and did not have to save a single point threatening his service game. Raising his game in the second set was key for Federer- Nadal has come from a set down versus the Swiss in 6 of his 23 wins, slowly working his way into the Federer game and brain and then taking charge, but Federer being able to take the lead in the match and then dominate with effective, efficient and at times inspiring tennis on a surface which Nadal could have had the upper-hand on made the difference because while Nadal’s forehand was off and his serve was not as good as it needed to be, he is still the Rafa Nadal, and with tennis being such a mind game, if Federer had opened the door, Nadal would have stepped in and tried to take it off its hinges.

Not that Nadal getting back into the match would have meant a victory for the Spaniard- Federer had already seen off fight-backs from Berdych and Kyrgios, two other players who have shown they can beat him in big matches, and could have resisted a Nadal comeback in the same fashion. He did not need, to, though, Federer finally getting Nadal’s number, his win over Nadal his fourth in a row (Basel ’15, Australian Open ’17, Indian Wells ’17, Miami ’17), scene-stealing the final act of their rivalry, cutting the deficit to 14-23 and leading the hard court head to head 10-9.

Those numbers are part of what has been a season of catching up and putting right for Federer. Miami is his 26th ATP 1000 crown, (Nadal has 28, Djokovic 30) and the third time he has won the Sunshine double, putting him one behind Novak Djokovic (2011, 2014, 2015, 2016). It is his 91st title overall, putting him 3rd place on the list, three behind Lendl. 2017 is not just about catching up, but extending as well – his lead at most hard court titles won is now 63, 12 ahead of second best Novak Djokovic (51).

With three of those most recent hard titles big ones, too, and won in the last three months, the first quarter of 2017 has been a Federer run that has also seen him extend his lead in the race to London with 4, 045 points ( Nadal is second with 2, 235). A grueling start to the season, but one Federer played out more like the Spring lamb leaping in the fields than the Wintry Goat nestling in the stable. Now, after all that work and play, the Swiss has time to lie down, the long clay season to be fought out by his rivals while he enters just a few events, allowing him to rest up and prepare himself for when he graces the tennis stage goats would probably, if they played tennis, like most due to its feasting potential. A stage, with Federer’s revival such a success, he will be expected to perform like a Champion on- the Grass Season. Grass, the surface on which Federer’s game looks its brutal prettiest, on which his best performances have always been his very best, and which if this early season hard court lead in is anything to go by, could be, in 2017, 14 years after his first Wimbledon trophy, an encore to rival his prime time mid 2000 performances themselves.

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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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