Thirteen years after their first meeting, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will battle again on Sunday as they chase personal milestones in the final of the second ATP Masters series event of the year at Crandon Park. Both had contrastingly different wins in the semi final on Friday, while Federer edged Australian Nick Kyrgios in the most pulsating match of the year so far, Nadal proved too strong for the Italian Fabio Fognini as he came through in straight sets.
Federer, who saved two match points in his quarter final win over the 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych, this time squandered two match points in the second set tie-break before finally coming through in three hours and ten minutes, the winning scoreline was 7-6(9),6-7,(9),7-6(5). Astonishingly, it was only the second meeting between the two, and like their previous meeting in Madrid on clay in 2015, all three sets were decided by a tie-break. Kyrgios had saved two match points then to beat Federer.
Kyrgios was the first too strike in the first set breaking Federer’s serve in the seventh game. The 35 year old, egged on by the boisterous crowd levelled the score at 5-5 with a break and it required an ace from Kyrgios to save a set point at 5-6, 30-40 down. Kyrgios would save two more set points in the tie break. Federer too saved two set points in the tie-break, Kyrgios double faulted at 9-9 and Federer took the set when a Kyrgios backhand ended in the doubles alley.
Both players had comfortable service holds in the second set and in the inevitable tie-break that followed, Federer hit a backhand long and then dumped a 88mph second serve into the bottom of the net. Kyrgios would make him pay the price with an ace to seal the second set. The pattern of easy service holds followed in the decider and Kyrgios got the mini break in the tie break. He then hit a double fault at 5-5 in the tie-break and Federer made the most of it closing it out on the next point. It was the sixth consecutive tie break between the two, Kyrgios had beaten Federer 6-7(2),7-6(5),7-6(12) in Madrid saving two match points.
Earlier in the day, the fifth seeded Nadal made it to his fifth final in Miami with a comfortable 6-1,7-5 win over the 40th ranked Fabio Fognini in a match which hardly lived up to its expectations. Fognini had beaten Nadal thrice in ten previous meetings, including a two set come from behind win at the U.S. Open in 2015 third round encounter.
In what would be the thirty seventh meeting between the two, a lot will be at stake for both players. A win will give Federer a third Indian Wells Miami double having done so in 2005 and 2006. Federer who became the oldest player to win a Masters series event when he lifted the title in Indian Wells two weeks ago, will also be bidding for his 26th Masters title and his 91st career title.
Only Novak Djokovic has achieved the double four times, in 2011 and then three in a row between 2014 and 2016. Five other players have accomplished the feat earlier, Jim Courier (1991), Michael Chang (1992), Pete Sampras (1994), Marcelo Rios (1998) and Andre Agassi in 2001. Nadal will be hoping to win the title in Miami for the first time, having finished runner up four times in 13 previous visits including a five set loss to Federer in the 2005 final where he squandered a two set lead. It would also be his 29th Masters title and a 70th career title. Only Novak Djokovic with 30 Masters titles is ahead of Nadal and Federer.
Nadal leads the career head to head 23-13, while Federer is on a three match winning streak against the Spaniard. Nadal is also 2-1 against Federer in Miami, and enters the match with a 19-4 record in 2017. He has the most number of wins this year on tour, Federer is 18-1. His only loss coming at the Dubai Dutyfree Championships second round match which he lost to the Russian Evgeny Donskoy, after having two match points. Out of the last 62 Masters finals, The Big Four comprising Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and current world number One Andy Murray have won 57 titles. Only Robin Soderling (2010 Paris), David Ferrer (2012 Paris), Stan Wawrinka (2014 Monte Carlo), Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (Toronto) and Marin Cilic (2016 Cincinnati) are the other players to have won Masters titles during that period.
Prediction :- A lot will depend on how much the 35 year old Federer has recovered after a gruelling semi final against Kyrgios. First set becomes absolutely critical for both as Nadal was roundly beaten in Indian Wells. It will be a completely different ball game despite that heavy loss and Nadal may just sneak in to win in tightly contested three set match.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]