Missing Andy Murray? Missing Novak Djokovic? Yup, it’s been that kind of year. Just when Murray and Djokovic thought the tour was in their possession, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal came back just to spoil their 2017 party, and right now they are running away with the tour. And one of them will take home the Miami title, which Murray and Djokovic had won the last six years.
Federer, to me, has been the surprise this week. I thought after winning Indian Wells he would take it easy this week, be cautious and not overdue things. He was playing with house money thanks to Indian Wells. And he even talked about it.
“When I came to Miami I just thought — like I did in Indian Wells and in Australia — eventually it’s just going to catch up with me,” Federer said. “Miami is probably not going to work that well because it’s slower. I already won Indian Wells.”
Yet it hasn’t caught up to him. And to his credit he’s done just the opposite, fighting and battling his way through Tomas Berdych, saving two matchpoints. Then last night hanging in during that nail-biting 3-tiebreak thriller over Nick Kyrgios.
Rafa, on the other hand, I thought would do this well. And I thought in the absence of Murray and Djokovic, that he would finally win this title. But I thought that win would come over a different European with a 1-handed backhand. Dominic Thiem isn’t walking out on court tomorrow, it’s Mr. Federer.
On to my pick.
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
Wow, this is a tough one. Rafa was my pick at the start of the event and I really want to stick with him But the way Federer’s been playing gives me a lot of pause here. He’s still cracking that backhand, ripping forehands, serving lights out and his return of serve has been amazing.
Rafa’s been playing well, also, but that not that well. He served great against Fognini and to beat Roger – because of Fed’s return – he’ll have to do even better tomorrow. And to me, that’s the problem. Rafa’s serve, specifically his second which Fed jumped all over at Indian Wells. And when that happens and Rafa’s forehand isn’t doing damage to Roger’s improve backhand, it’s over.
“It’s true that I didn’t play my best match against Roger, but the feeling was good,” Nadal said. And he says now that with the draw opening up, it’s helped him in Miami.
“Is true that in my place couple of players lost, some seeds lost overall in the whole draw,” he said. “I was able to play every day a little bit better, I think. That’s why I am in the final, no?”
Well, yes. I picked Rafa because he was playing good and I felt he would get that good draw, and he did. Nicolas Mahut, Jack Sock and then Fognini to make a Miami is about as easy as it will ever be.
And against Roger, the slower court, the heavier conditions and the heat should help Rafa out. And he’s got the motivation of never having won Miami before and halting a 3-match losing streak to Fed.
“Here we are in the finals and I get a chance to win the tournament,” Federer said. “Still I feel like there is a mountain to climb in Rafa. He’s not won it yet before. He’s definitely feeling fresher than I feel right now. That’s not a problem. I’ll be ready on Sunday.”
But in the past it’s been Rafa inside Roger’s head. Now, it’s reversed. I just feel Roger’s playing with more confidence – and you can see it in his game – whereas Rafa’s still unsure, still frustrated like we saw when he could put Fognini away earlier. And I think in the end, that’s the difference. Roger’s just got a little more swagger here. Plus, the day off today should help him fully recover following two tough matches on Thursday and Friday.
“It’s definitely going to be very special playing Rafa here again,” Federer added. “Of course I’m thrilled for him as well that he came back as well as he did after the comeback, the struggles that he had last year. Feels like old times. We’re playing each other every week now. We can’t get enough of each other.”
And neither can we.
The pick: Federer in 3
ESPN2 will have live coverage starting at 1pm. Regardless of the outcome of the match – which could go just about any way – it’s been an unbelievable first quarter to the season. Who would have thought Roger and Rafa would be far and away the two best on the circuit this year.
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