For the first time in six years the two titans of tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, will wage war on American soil Friday night in the Miami semifinals. With deference to Novak Djokovic who is playing the best tennis of anyone this season, the main attraction in the sport remains Federer v. Nadal and tomorrow night it’s chapter 23.
Earlier today, Federer arrived into the semifinals by way of a retirement from Gilles Simon. The Frenchman aggravated a neck/back injury during a morning warmup, and down 3-0 to Federer, Simon decided he had had enough.
“I felt to this morning during the warmup,” Simon said. “It’s a pain I have sometimes. I had it in Rotterdam one month ago. I couldn’t play either. I have some problem with my back. I know I have to work on it. Still some days, sometimes I just wake up like this and cannot turn my head that much and really feel uncomfortable on the court.
“I tried everything. I mean, anti-inflammatories, hot cream, just trying to feel better. Just after the second forehand, I tried it hit it very hard; I felt it very hard also. I knew I have no chance to play today.”
Interestingly, Federer admitted to just having a similar neck issue. “I had a bad neck last week as well,” Federer said. “It’s just something that’s really hard to play with sometimes.”
While Federer spent about 10 minutes on court, Nadal went two hours longer this evening thanks to a spirited performance by Tomas Berdych. In the end, Nadal saved three break points early in the third to survive 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and set up the much-anticipated Federer-Nadal showdown, the first in the U.S. since 2005 Miami final when Federer first beat Nadal overcoming a two-set deficit.
“t’s always special to play against him and have these matches, very important matches for both of our careers: finals of Roland Garros, finals of Wimbledon, of Australian Open, a lot of finals in Masters 1000s,” Nadal said. “That makes the rivalry very, very special. I don’t know if rivals in the rest of the history of tennis played as many matches as we’ve played.”
Said Federer, “My No. 1 rival to me it seems is Rafa. Doesn’t matter how many more times I’m going to be playing all the other guys. At the moment, we have that history and nobody can take it away from us. That’s why the only thing really missing from us is a US Open match, I guess, and a few other maybe tournaments.”
Head-to-head, Nadal holds the sizable lead 14-8 with the bulk of that margin courtesy of a 10-2 clay advantage.
On hardcourts, Federer the scale tips ever so slightly in Federer’s favor 4-3 which includes that 2005 Miami title and a win last November on the slippery surface at the London Indoor Finals.
But these courts are playing much slower and the windy, heavier conditions to me favor Nadal. Rafa has also never won Miami, an event Federer’s won twice, so there’s the added incentive, though these two hardly need any when they clash.
And for my money Nadal has simply been playing better tennis this year than Roger. Rafa just got past Berdych, a hurdle Federer couldn’t clear in Miami a year ago, plus he beat Del Potro last week and took a set from Djokovic. [corrected]
Federer’s results, while strong, begin to fall apart a little when you look a little closer. The Swiss has yet to beat a Top 10 player on the season (0-3 with all losses to Djokovic) and as we are starting to see Fed’s worst surface as he ages is a slow hardcourt, the same one he’ll be on tomorrow night.
Still, you cannot totally dismiss Federer’s chances Friday. He still has the ability to put something special together tomorrow night like he did in London when he played ultra-aggressive.
Playing in the evening when the wind is not a strong should also help Federer. But I’m picking Nadal here 7-5, 6-4.
“If you win, great; if you lose, that’s okay, too, as long as you tried everything and learned something else from that match after you lost,” Federer added. “But I am planning to win, and that’s why I have to be well prepared.”
As for keys to the match, I think if Nadal serves well he’ll win. For Federer to win he’ll have to serve well, take some chances (like Roddick last year) and be solid and sharp off the ground, especially the backhand.
Also worth noting, Nadal hinted at an injury concern in his arm for which he received treatment during the Berdych win. “I did a little bit of treatment now after the match, and I’m going to do it more tonight when I arrive at the hotel,” he said.
“First time in my life [I felt something like this]… really strange. Especially since the left arm I could do aggressive movements, but the right was really strange. Seriously, I couldn’t understand during the match what happened.”
Oh boy. Let’s hope it’s nothing.
In the earlier semifinal, Mardy Fish has a lot going for him against Djokovic. He’s a South Florida native, he likes the heat, he likes playing in the daytime, he’ll carry the flag of being the best in American tennis, he’s playing great (hasn’t lost a set!) and he’s beaten some very good, powerful players en route to the Final Four. Unfortunately for Fish, he not only has to face someone he’s never beaten in five tries but who also is the hottest player on the planet in Djokovic.
Novak comes in riding a career-best 24-match win streak (22-0 this season) and as they said on TV yesterday the ball must look like a basketball to him. His serve is solid, movement great, his backhand is lethal and it looks like he can hit his forehand wherever he wants to. Cross-court, down-the-line, angled, it doesn’t matter. To say he’s in the “zone” is an understatement.
Fish will come in with no pressure and if it is hot Friday maybe the heat gets to Djokovic who’s played all his matches (I think) in the late evening/night. So I don’t expect it to be a romp and I feel Fish will make it a battle, but one he’ll lose in the end 7-6, 7-5.
ESPN2 will again have live coverage at 1pm and at 7pm. Check your favorite internet site for live streaming. You don’t want to miss out.
For the weekend, I believe CBS will have the women’s final between screamers Maria Sharapova v. Victoria Azarenka Saturday and the men’s final Sunday, both at noon.
FRIDAY MIAMI SCHEDULE
STADIUM start 1:00 pm
 M Fish (USA) vs  N Djokovic (SRB) – ATP
 M Martinez Sanchez (ESP) / A Medina Garrigues (ESP) vs  L Huber (USA) / N Petrova (RUS) – WTA
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs  R Federer (SUI) – ATP
D Hantuchova (SVK) / A Radwanska (POL) vs S Peer (ISR) / S Peng (CHN) – WTA
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