By Jane Voigt
March27, 2017 — It was another beautiful day at the Miami Open. Stadium One was packed to the gills, the atmosphere like a Davis Cup match. Seems that’s always the way when Roger Federer’s around. And he’s been around for a long time. Yet it never gets old or boring, even when he’s having a ridiculously ambitious season.
He’s 15-1 for the year with two titles — The Australian Open and Indian Wells — added to his already packed resume of 90. His backhand has become a monster-of-an-asset, ever since he embraced the high-bouncing balls in the California desert, as he came back from a six-month layoff.
Who knew he could get better and better? Federer even admits he doesn’t quite understand it all. But the mysteriousness doesn’t dissuade him from welcoming today’s challenger — Juan Martin del Potro.
“I would love to play against him,” Federer told the press, after his third-round win over Frances Tiafoe. “I’m happy for him with his comeback, winning at Davis Cup.”
The two should have met at this tournament last year, but Federer pulled out with a stomach ailment.
“That was a pity,” he continued. “It’s better to play him maybe this time around when we’re both better. He was just on the comeback last year.”
The two have had some Herculean battles.
“Yeah, we’ve had some epic matches against each other: semis at The French Open; Olympic semis; finals at U. S. Open.”
Federer sounded all nice, during that press conference. But the look on his face today and his aggressive stance, either inside or on the baseline, painted another picture. One that said, you are not getting past me. Not today.
Federer schooled Del Potro, 6-3, 6-4, in under an hour. The Giant of Tandil could not find rhythm or connect with his blistering forehand to push Federer off the baseline. He took the ball early, starving Del Potro of necessary seconds to wind up his forehand loop.
Federer saved break points with gutsy second serves, forehand mishits, and cranky drop shots … one that sealed the first set. He broke twice in the second, edging upward the number of consecutive sets he’s won this season to 14.
“Last year I didn’t win any titles,” Federer said, after winning Indian Wells. “I don’t think I was in any finals except Brisbane. The change is dramatic and it feels great.”
Only Evgeny Donskoy can say he’s stopped the Federer express this year. They met in Dubai’s second round. Donskoy was ranked No. 116 and had to qualify for the tournament. It didn’t matter. He embraced an extraordinary belief in himself, even as Federer held three match points in the second set and went up 5-1 in the third-set tiebreak.
Del Potro didn’t have enough belief today and he didn’t execute his game, the one we all know he has tucked away for another day.
Few have won the Indian Wells/Miami back-to-back. Federer has done it twice, though. In 2006 he defeated his now-coach Ivan Ljubicic, successfully defending his title from 2005. To think Federer’s in a position to do it 11 years later is somewhat incomprehensible. However, we’re dealing with what many seriously believe is the best player tennis fans have ever seen, or might ever see.
“I know how hard it is to win back-to-back Indian Wells and Miami titles,” he said. “That’s why again I sort of go to Miami knowing it’s going to be really difficult.”
As far as the draw looks for Federer, well, it doesn’t look ‘really difficult’ until the weekend. Up next is Roberto Bautista Agut, the 14th seed. Federer likes to play the Spaniard. Their head-to-head is 5-0, Federer.