There is a ring of familiarity to the finals of the Miami Open, even as the two men featuring on Sunday seem bent on proving that time can indeed stand still. Arch rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will battle against each other to bring up episode 37 of their enduring saga. The Swiss maestro showcased his often-overlooked streak of resilience, working past a difficult draw to reach the finals, while the Spanish matador has glided through with some excellent tennis. The stage is set for another intriguing clash between these two giants of Open Era tennis.
The match will be the 23rd final encounter of this storied rivalry, with the winner accounting for an unbelievable 54th Masters Series title. Nadal has 28 of those glistening trophies, while Federer has stashed away 25 titles in his overflowing cabinet of silverware.
The two men have taken starkly contrasting routes to the final. Nadal enjoyed a relatively straight forward draw — marching past Jack Sock and Fabio Fognini in near imperial fashion. The Spaniard’s only glitch came earlier in the third round. Phillip Kohlschreiber rattled Nadal with a bagel in the first set, but rolled over subsequently to allow an easy passage.
On the other hand, Federer has been challenged yet again, as he was at Indian Wells. A second-round encounter with promising young talent, Frances Tiafoe set the tone for a difficult week. Federer did well to make it look easy against Juan Martin Del Potro but Roberto Bautista Agut proved stubborn before succumbing in two breakers.
Federer saved two match points against Tomas Berdych before inching ahead 8-6 in a third set tie-break. The Swiss endured an epic battle against the mercurial Nick Kyrgios on Friday, surviving three memorable tie-breakers before securing a place in the final.
The Indian Wells winner must surely be sore and aching after all the work in Miami. Nadal is bound to be the fresher of the two men when they clash on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if the workload has any impact on Federer’s ability to produce sustained quality against his nemesis.
Nadal has a 14-8 edge in finals and 23-13 advantage overall, but Federer seems to have found the energy and guile needed to tilt the balance slightly in his favour. The two men have rarely met in recent years, drawing a complete blank in 2016, as they struggled with injury and loss of form. But they have owned the ATP World Tour this season, accumulating an impressive 37-5 win loss record between them.
Federer has lost just once this year, against Evgeny Donskoy, at the ATP 500 event in Dubai. Nadal has absorbed two of his four losses this season against Federer — at Melbourne and Indian Wells. This will be their third meeting this season already. For the first time in their careers, Federer has won three in a row, turning the tide against the natural flow of this rivalry.
“It’s definitely going to be very special playing Rafa here again. I’m thrilled for him that he came back as well as he did after the comeback and the struggles that he had last year,” Federer told the media.
“It feels like old times. We’re playing each other every week now. We can’t get enough of each other. Hopefully it’s not our last match.”
The two have a thread of history connecting them in Crandon Park. Federer first engaged with a teenaged Nadal at Miami in 2004, losing in straight sets. He exacted revenge a year later when they met in their first ever final — a memorable five-set contest that set the tone for their great rivalry. Federer came back from the dead in that match, down two sets and 3-5 in the third set tie-breaker, before winning 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1.
Incidentally, that was the last time Federer won this title. Nadal on the other hand has lost three other finals in Miami, making Sunday his fifth attempt to win the title. Miami is only one of two Masters Series titles missing from Nadal’s impressive collection.
The Swiss has offset his disadvantage against the Spaniard by playing some attacking tennis off both flanks. He is taking the ball early on his backhand to negate the difficulty of playing a high ball with the single-hander. The consistency on his first serve and renewed vigour off the forehand are also helping Federer dictate the flow of points much better than he did in the past.
It will be important for Nadal to show that he has the answers to tame his rejuvenated rival. The slow courts in Miami should technically favour Nadal, but then the surface in Indian Wells was notoriously slow too. Nadal will look to draw Federer into the ad court before attacking the backhand.
The head-to-head is tilted heavily in favour of Nadal. He has won 12 of their 17 matches on the Masters Series stages, including a 7-3 record in finals. After taking in three consecutive losses, Nadal will be eager to turn the tide before moving to his favoured red dirt. It will be a psychological blow that can restore balance for Nadal before he plots another season of dominance on clay.
“It’s great to be in the final. For me, doesn’t matter the opponent,” said the polite Spaniard, trying his best to sound cocky. “I am happy to be in that final again, and I am excited to play another final of an important event.”
Expect him to come out of the blocks all guns blazing. It will be important for Nadal to take early charge of the match to try and prevent Federer from collecting a seventh victory against the top ten this season.
The Swiss on the other hand will look to serve well and attack Nadal to unsettle the Spaniard’s top-spin laden rhythm. The Miami Open final promises to be another gripping thriller between these two gladiators.
Updated Date: Apr 02, 2017 10:20 AM