Roger Federer shines but Andy Roddick falls in Miami
Federer makes impressive start in Miami but sick defending champion Roddick joins more fallen seeds
The talk in Indian Wells, from start to finish, was of Novak Djokovic.
He had continued his 2011 unbeaten run all the way to the title, dropping precious few games on the way, and he took the No2 ranking in the process.
He notched up his third victory on the trot over Roger Federer and won his third tournament on the bounce.
And the talk in Miami has still been of Djokovic, from fund-raising football to an apparently seamless transition to more near-perfect tennis.
He opened his account against the hapless Denis Istomin with a 6-0 6-1 win in a mere 48 minutes. All of which makes him the last man on the tour to need a helping hand.
Yet the Djokovic quarter of the draw opened like a flower in the Florida sun as the seeds tumbled: Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, Tomaz Bellucci and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
In the same half, Stanislas Wawrinka and Milos Raonic also disappeared, while many more players faced up-hill battles through three-met marathons -Robin Soderling, Juan Martin Del Potro, John Isner and Djokovic’s next opponent, James Blake.
Would the top half of the draw give a similar helping hand to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on Miami’s opening Saturday?
In this party-time resort that schedules an intense programme across eight courts through the heat of the day, it did not take long to find out.
Two of Miami’s star attractions in succession hit the Stadium Court with the sun at its full height -all 30 degrees of it: Roger Federer followed by home favourite, Andy Roddick.
Both men are double champions in Miami and, should the seedings work out, they should have faced each other for the 23rd time in the quarter-finals.
Both men, too, came into their opening matches in good form, but the world No3 and No8 could not have ended with more contrasting results.
Despite rumours of imminent decline, Federer owned an 18-3 win-loss record ahead of his Miami debut this year, and 16 of those wins were in straight sets. He looked in good shape and was producing good performances. Only Djokovic had denied him all year.
His good form continued against Radek Stepanek, a former top-10 player now sunk to 68 after a succession of injuries.
The match started in appropriately tropical style with the Swiss and the Czech playing colourful tennis. Stepanek has an attacking net game supported by a variety of ground strokes that together can make life very difficult for his opponents.
The Czech certainly held his own in the early stages, using his offensive tactics and some wonderfully deft drop shots to the maximum. But the 32-year-old is slower than in his prime and, by the fifth game, Federer had worked a break point, converted it and moved smoothly through the rest of the set, 6-3.
Stepanek opened the second set with some more lively play and rallied Federer in some nifty net exchanges. He rushed the net on the Federer serve, and a feather-light drop shot produced a break point.
With Federer’s serve percentage for the match touching 70, however, it was no surprise to see him not only save the break point but turn the tables in the next game to win two break points of his own. He took the first with ease, and settled the match with two love games, 6-3.
For the record -and where Federer is concerned, there is usually a record to look out for -the Swiss has now equalled the Sampras total of 762 Open era match wins: the seventh highest tally. His comment was typically low key: “It’s a funny stat, but it shows how long I have been around.”
Federer will view his Stepanek match as a good warm-up game, testing him in all parts of the court and with a variety of shot, spin and pace. A bit like Goldilocks’s porridge, it was just right, and his next match against Juan Monaco should be equally Ã¢â‚¬Ëœright’.
The Argentine also plays with variety and speed, and will benefit from the strong South American support in Miami. But it’s hard to see Federer not advancing to meet Mikhail Youzhny -who dropped just one game in his opener -in the fourth round.
Federer will not, though, find Roddick in the subsequent quarter-finals.
The American came into Miami with 16 wins to three losses for the year as well as a 30th career title in Memphis. His record in Miami was second-to-none: He made the quarter-finals or better in six of his last seven visits and had won the title twice.
But from the very start, the Roddick serve was missing -he managed just 46 per cent in the first set. His opponent, Pablo Cuevas, took full advantage with a strong offensive game plan that had him attacking Roddick time and again in long backhand exchanges.
The Uruguayan was also willing to attack the net and had numerous break chances that eventually earned him the first set 6-3.
It soon became apparent that Roddick was unwell as he sought help from both medic and physio at two changeovers in the second set.
With such obvious breathing and mobility problems, many players would have retired, but Roddick ploughed on, heavy-footed, to a second set tiebreaker and to his earliest Miami loss since 2002. Worse, it will see him fall outside the top 10, a place in which he has found himself for just four weeks since August 2006.
This is the third illness Roddick has suffered in little more than six months. Last autumn, he had a mild bout of glandular fever, and he was then struck down by flu a month ago. It is possible to see this as part of a single pattern: an immune system still weakened by the after-effects of glandular fever.
Rest may therefore be the order of the day and it would come at the perfect time for the American. He plays little tennis during the clay season and can afford to recharge his batteries until Roland Garros without losing any more precious ranking points.
Roddick was the highest seed to leave the top half of Miami’s draw, but his eighth was quickly depleted by more: Marin Cilic and Jurgen Melzer.
Nadal’s quarter lost Ernests Gulbis, Albert Montanes and Juan Ignacio Chela.
So as Miami headed off to enjoy its night on the town, Saturday wound down with almost as many shocks as Friday.
Only Stadium Court stayed in action as night fell and only one ATP match was scheduled under the Florida stars. Were it not Nadal, one wonders who would have stayed in Crandon Park at all.