Miami Masters 2017: Ageless Federer resists Kyrgios challenge to set another Nadal showdown
Roger Federer will take on Rafael Nadal in the final of the Miami Masters after beating Nick Kyrgios
With three months and three of the most prestigious tournaments in the calendar heading to a conclusion this weekend, it was becoming a familiar sight. At the business end of each big event, just as it had been almost a decade ago, there were Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
From 2005 to 2011, these two stars of men’s tennis held the top two rankings almost exclusively. They won 31 of the 54 Masters and 21 of the 24 Majors from 2005 to the end of 2010. Now they were headed back to the top five despite both missing long sections of 2016 with illness and injury, but already led the Race to London
At the Australian Open, it was these two who contested the final. In Acapulco, Nadal made the final, then Federer won in Indian Wells, beating Nadal in the fourth round.
Now, in the second 96-man draw of the year in Miami, they had both worked their way to the semis: One more win, and they would again contest the title. First, though, both had to get past opponents who had caused them not a little trouble before.
Nadal faced the unseeded Fabio Fognini, a former No13 who was just beginning to regain some of that earlier form. And while Nadal had won their last two meetings, the Italian scored two shock wins over Nadal in 2015, before also making a shock comeback from two sets down to beat Nadal at the US Open.
However, through the Miami draw, Nadal was looking increasingly assured at a tournament where he had reached four previous finals.
From the outset, then, the Spaniard was in familiar strut-and-glare mode, and quickly imposed his near-perfect serving and punishing forehand on Fognini. He broke for a 3-1 lead and again for 5-1, serving out the set, 6-1, having dropped just four points on serve.
The conditions were hot but windy, but seemed to have little adverse effect on Nadal, whereas Fognini struggled to find his rhythm. In the third game of Set 2, he faced five break points before holding, and it was the same story in the fifth game, a nine-minute marathon after taking treatment on his right arm. Meanwhile, Nadal cruised to 3-3 having dropped just one point on serve, and would drop only five in this set, too.
Fognini’s level did begin to improve, however, and it looked as though he would at least take it to a tie-break. But at 5-5, Fognini double-faulted to concede the break, and Nadal served his way to his fifth Miami final, 7-5, having faced not a single break point.
So once again, Nadal was present and correct in the final stages of a tournament. The question was, could Federer set their third meeting in as many months?
His task looked formidable against the 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios, whose power, flare and confidence had all melded during the “sunshine double”, and as the Australian headed into the semi, he could count two wins over Novak Djokovic in the space of a fortnight, plus wins over a string of seeds in Miami—Ivo Karlovic, David Goffin and, in a barnstorming three-setter, Sascha Zverev.
Kyrgios had another reason to be eager for his Federer showdown. He had been forced to forego his scheduled match with the Swiss in Indian Wells due to a stomach virus, but he already boasted a dramatic victory in their only previous meeting. It was in Madrid two years ago, took three tie-breakers, and Kyrgios faced down match points on his way to the 7-6(12) final set.
So only the best from the Swiss would do if he was to reach the final for the first time since winning in 2006. And in truth, his below-par serving in his last-gasp win over Tomas Berdych in a final-set tie-break suggested that his 35-year-old legs were beginning to feel the effects of those Australian Open matches—four against top-10 players, three of them five-setters—followed by 10 matches in Indian Wells and Miami.
But as so often this year, the Swiss brooked no such doubts. Indeed, in the first half dozen games, he was close to charging through Kyrgios. With easy holds himself, he fired three backhand winners to bring up break point in the second game, and then had two more chances in a 10-minute fourth game.
But the Australian’s deep reserves of self-belief withstood challenges and he got the break himself in the seventh. Now his serve rained down, with an ace at 139mph, then one at 141: 5-3. He even threw in Federer’s signature SABR attack against the Swiss—twice—to threaten again, but Federer resisted three deuces, and turned the tables to break back, 5-5. He even earned a set point, but more aces from Kyrgios took it to a tie-break.
If the first set had been intense, the 13th game cranked things up still further. Federer double faulted on the dot of one hour to give Kyrgios the edge, but levelled, and he got the first set point with a sizzling return of serve and net charge. However, he failed to convert that, or the next. He then faced two set points but Kyrgios also failed to convert. A double fault from the Australian brought up a third, and this time Federer took it, 7-6(9), with a huge roar.
How much physical and emotional energy had that hour and a quarter taken from the Swiss? Well the packed Miami stadium would be asking the same question more than an hour later, after a second compelling set of tennis that had audacious winning tweeners, drops, and multiple love holds on both sides. The only break points came against Kyrgios in the seventh game, but he was not for breaking: It would be another tie-break.
Federer took the lead with a forehand winner, 3-1, took it again at 5-3, had match point on serve twice, but could not take either, and Kyrgios reeled off the last four points for the set, 7-6(9).
Federer had won five more points than Kyrgios, but to no avail: He would have to start all over again, and Crandon Park felt like it was about to explode. The partisan crowd roared every winner from Federer, chastised every emotional outburst from Kyrgios, yet the match was played with great mutual respect by the two men themselves.
Only once on the way to a final tie-break was either pressed on serve, with Kyrgios coming through three deuces for 2-2: There was not a break point in sight.
This time, Federer was the one to go 3-1 down but he levelled, and finally got another stab at a match-point courtesy of a tense Kyrgios double fault. The Swiss fired a winning serve for the victory, 7-6(5), after 3hrs 10mins that neither man will easily forget.
So the Federer and Nadal roadshow continues just where it began 13 years and 36 matches ago. The teenage Spaniard sailed through their first match in Miami, but Federer got his revenge in the title match in their second meeting the very next year, coming back from two sets down to win in five.
Since then, Masters finals have become best-of-three, and Federer will no doubt be hugely grateful for that. He has a day’s rest before trying to beat his famed rival for the third time this year, but once again, many may ask whether that will be enough as the Swiss pursues his 19th win of 2017, his third Miami title, his 50th win in the Sunshine State.
Sunday will deliver the answer—and also, perhaps, a long-awaited Miami title for Nadal.