Do you want to call it resurgence or renaissance? This is a season when a spoilt generation of tennis fans are granted a basket of new wishes, by the unexpected reemergence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. At a combined age of 66, the two produced yet another lacerating contest of brilliance to send the season into red dirt floating on a silver cloud. Federer broke serve once in each set to seal an emphatic 6-3, 6-4 victory and a rare Sunshine Double (Indian Wells and Miami), for the third time in his career.
On the idea of resurgence and renaissance, you could be right either way. Because there seems to be a bit of both in the manner of their return to the top draw of tennis.
Both men are coming off a troubled season, blighted by injury. And they have found themselves across the net on the three important occasions this season. So yes, this is a resurgence unlike any in recent memory.
Federer was often stifled by his indulgence in the one-handed backhand, especially against Nadal. The Spaniard throttled his Swiss opponent into submission by repeatedly spinning his way near Federer’s throat.
Federer seems to be altering the culture of their rivalry by showing a flair for offence. He is playing a bold new form of tennis, taking the ball as early as possible. So yes, in the autumn of his career, this is nothing short of a renaissance.
The duo wasted no time in throwing the heavy punches. Glowing in iridescent green, Nadal was wielding his forehand like a Jedi warrior. Federer was smooth as silk, but a punched return winner in the second game underlined the Swiss man’s desire to play first strike tennis.
At 15-30 in the fourth game, Federer had a golden opportunity to drive ahead but he sailed a backhand beyond the baseline. Nadal though produced an ace and a little more to hold his own, saving two break points. Just minutes into this 37th match between these two gladiators, it was obvious that no territory was going to be conceded at either end.
Nadal even resorted to bullying midway through the first set. The Spaniard loaded up his forehand as if his sole intent was to brutalise the Swiss maestro. As Nadal fired ferociously, winning three straight points on the Federer serve, he was driving a sense of fear that permeated into the drawing rooms across the world. Federer must have felt intimidated in those moments, but he refused to cow down.
The intensity inside Crandon Park was palpable — Nadal was electrifying the court with his power and Federer was doing just about enough to not blink in the face of that luminous attack.
In a way, it was Nadal’s attempt to navigate the dynamic of this rivalry back to where it existed. Federer did well to stand ground, just as he did a dozen years ago when he was on the brink of defeat at two sets down and 3-5 in the third set tie-break.
Federer’s bold stance against the ferocity of Nadal was a sight to behold, for it yielded immediate results for the Swiss. Even if the serve wasn’t nearly as good as it has been recently, Federer used his forehand to telling effect — producing a 12th winner to set course towards another victory. The first set lasted just under an hour, with Federer waltzing past his opponent with some timely punches at the end.
It was important that Federer managed to win 19 of 22 first serve points and shot 18 winners to just nine from Nadal. But even more significant was the fact that Federer had won the first set in 11 of his 13 victories over the Spanish matador.
But unlike the desert air in Indian Wells that helps the ball fly and sizzle, Miami is a moist mist that renders the ball slow and heavy. The humidity has been one of the many reasons why Federer hasn’t managed to win another title since his Sunshine Double in 2006.
The past fortnight has taken a toll on Federer, with his opponents extracting sweat and energy from the normally unfazed Swiss. Nadal clearly looked the fresher of the two men, which in itself is quite an anomaly, but Federer stuck to his game plan like a possessed warrior.
At 30-30 in the seventh game, Federer even managed to nail Nadal down with a couple of sweetly-timed backhands across the court. Not to be outdone, Nadal crafted a Federer-esque drop shot to claw back yet another break point. It was an intriguing experience watching these two men learn and adapt on the fly, using experience and energy in equal measure.
But something has to give and the five-inch band at the top of the net colluded with Federer late in the match. It intervened on a Federer forehand to leave Nadal scrambling from behind the baseline. In a match like this where the sun is beating down ferociously, it is essential to catch the scent of victory and fly with it.
Federer did just that, producing a couple of magical winners off either flank to capitalize on the break in the ninth game with a hold at 30 to put Nadal away for a fourth match running. Victory in Miami will be particularly nostalgic for Federer, considering that he needed a laboured five-set victory over Nadal in 2005.
Federer has now improved to 14-23 against Nadal, 9-14 in finals as he collected his 26th Masters Series title. The Sunshine Double is his again after a gap of 11 years, a tribute to his endurance and passion for tennis. Both men have an impressive 19 match wins this season, but Nadal has absorbed five losses to just one by Federer.
“I keep ending up with the smaller trophy here,” lamented an exasperated Nadal, a five-time finalist in Miami. “But I will keep trying hard and come back here for the next two or three years.”
“You are too good not to win this one,” responded Federer, assuming a tone of reassurance. “This is where it all began for us, when you were a little boy. You have grown into a big, strong man and we have had some epic matches.”
“The dream continues,” admitted Federer. “I have enjoyed a fine couple of weeks in Miami.”
He can certainly say that after snapping up the first Grand Slam of the season and the two Masters Series events that followed it. Federer is up to fourth in the ATP rankings now and breathing down the neck of his compatriot Stan Wawrinka.
But it will be another victory against his nemesis Nadal that will taste sweet for Federer as he takes a well-earned break ahead of the clay season.
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 12:32 PM