Tennis Comes Out on Top

By Jane Voigt

April 3, 2017 — Who won The Miami Open men’s final? 

Tennis did.

And for the two men smacking it out on center court? 

They won, too, although Rafael Nadal will beg to differ because for the fourth consecutive time the Spaniard’s revived arch nemesis, the 35-year-old Roger Federer, downed Nadal, 6-3, 6-4, to win his third Miami Open Masters title plus his 26th Masters overall. Federer became the oldest player to ever win the title, as well, and became one of seven players to have won the first two Masters of the year, since 1991.  

“[You are having] one of the most amazing comebacks. Well done,” Nadal said to Federer, at the awards’ presentation. “[I’m] very happy for you.”

Although pundits have pointed to Federer’s new and improved backhand, his forehand took the racquet of Rafael Nadal’s hands today. Photo credit Karla Kinne 

It was Nadal’s fifth final in Miami and his fifth loss. No Spaniard has ever won this tournament. He lost to Federer in 2005, to Nikolay Davydenko in 2008, and to Djokovic in 2011 and 2015.

“[I’ve] been here in final position every three years, but always get the smaller trophy,” Nadal said, scratching his head and smiling. “Gonna keep trying. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another three years.”

With its large Hispanic population, a win by Nadal would have grounded the tournament for many of its fans. It is struggling to remain on Key Biscayne, as legal battles continue. Both Federer and Nadal would like to see it stay in its current location. 

“I’ve been coming here for a long, long time,” Federer said. “I hope it’s going to be a successful tournament for years to come.”

Federer and Nadal, the two biggest names in men’s tennis although not the top-ranked ones, began their rivalry at the Crandon Park facility in 2004. A then 17-year-old Nadal whipped up on Federer in the fourth round. They met in their first-ever final the next year, when Masters were five-set ordeals. Federer came from two sets down to win. 

Rafael Nadal never loses his intensity. But his normally devastating forehand was not in line with the task of today’s tennis.
Photo credit Karla Kinne

“I’m happy we’re here together,” Federer said, during the awards’ presentation. “We started here together. You were a small boy and grew into a big man. I still believe you’re going to win this tournament.”

Although not at his polished podium best, Federer got the point across. It’s been a journey. 

Nadal still holds an overwhelming edge in their head-to-head record: 14-23. Their hard court record, after today’s win for the Swiss, is 10-9. And, let’s hear it for the older crowd. This is the first 30-and-over final contested in this tournament’s history.  

“The dream continues,” Federer began, dropping his head as if searching for more to say about a season that defies the supposed logic of aging. 

He began the day with a 10-match winning streak. He’s 7-0, now, against top-ten players. And he’s 19-1 for the season. Basically, it’s the best start for him since 2006. But, can he continue winning like this? 

“I’m not 24 anymore,” he told ESPN on court, smiling. “I probably won’t play any clay-court tournaments until the French Open. I’m up in the rankings, but at the end I want to stay healthy. If I’m not feeling good I won’t be in the finals, playing Rafa.”

You have to believe that Nadal loved hearing those words, as he will return to Europe in preparation for favored swing … red clay tournaments. 

Today’s final got off to a rough start. Points were tough to win. Both men had opportunities to break, yet both held. You could imagine the strategic thinking going on in their minds. 

“He looked good from the get-go,” Federer began. “Playing big tennis. Stepping in. Making good decisions. It was an intense first set.”

Nadal has consistently targeted Federer’s backhand, over the years. It’s been his ‘weaker side.’ However since he’s improved that stroke, Nadal has been forced to change tactics. 

Today, he targeted Federer’s forehand to setup his backhand. Nadal was not as successful with that scheme as he had probably expected. Federer’s forehand was way too much for Nadal today. It’s the Swiss maestro’s long-time go-to shot, some saying the best in the game. It handcuffed Nadal over and over. Federer also served better, not with overwhelmingly fast ones but with precision.

“He’s serving better now than he has ever served,” Darren Cahill said, calling the match for ESPN. “He’s making the most of his first-serve points.” 

Nadal also hung out way behind the baseline, a comfortable spot for him and one from where he’s been successful. He planted himself there, too, on both of Federer’s first and second serves. 

“Nadal is standing way back on both first and second serves,” Cahill said. “He has to do something to throw off Federer’s rhythm.”

Federer broke once in each set, to secure his advantage and spike his chances to win the title. Tiebreakers are risky business for tennis players. 

“If you don’t hold serve, you’re in a tiebreaker,” Federer said. “It’s so crucial to hold serve against a good returner.”

The seven players who have won the first two ATP Masters 1000 tournaments of the season, since 1991.
Novak Djokovic: 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016
Roger Federer: 2005, 2006, 2017
Andre Agassi: 2001
Marcelo Rios: 1998
Pete Sampras: 1994
Michael Chang: 1992
Jim Courier: 1991




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