Somewhat fittingly, the last two players to have won the Miami title in Key Biscayne, John Isner and Roger Federer, will do the honors of facing each other for the first title in the event’s new home at the Hard Rock, which from the reviews and comments, was a well received.
Looking back to the semifinals, the two teen Canadian’s were simply not ready to take that big step. Not yet.
Felix Auger-Aliassime served for both the first and the second sets against Isner but gagged on both occasions, serving three doubles faults in the first and one in the second when he had the match on his racquet. Of course he fell in two breakers.
Still, though, of all the young NextGenner types on the tour, I think he will be the best, and he showed why. Remember, he’s just 18 and for the first time in his life he’s faced Isner and John was smacking aces early, but the kid figured it out and broke John twice in the match. I know he choked a bit in the end, but not many teens in the first meeting with Isner can get a read that quickly on the big man’s serve. And not many veterans can do that either!
I also love his court balance. He always seems to be in the right position to hit the ball, and hit the ball he can, especially off the backhand. He moves well, decent at the net and as the commentators on ESPN said, once he gets his ball toss figured out, his serve will be very dangerous, especially if he grows another inch or two – he’s already 6-foot-4.
And honestly, watching that match against John I thought if he had closed that out that he would have beaten Roger tomorrow. So in saying that, he might grab a Masters title this summer and potentially be a final four type player at the US Open and finish the year Top 10. It’s not crazy talk, folks.
My only concern is the heart issue that we saw at the US Open last year. But if that’s been put in the past, he’s going to be a guy who will win Slams and rank No. 1. He’s already better than the Zverevs, Corics, Tsitsipases, etc, and with a few more years under the belt, I think the top spot will be his.
As for Shapovalov, I don’t see the upside I do with Auger-Aliassime, but despite a disappointing performance against Federer, he’ll be back. He has that streaky flair like a JW Tsonga and I think he just needs to get over that hump, make his first final and get that first title.
But no doubt, the future for Canada is incredible with Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Indian Wells teen winner Bianca Andreescu.
As for the final…
Roger Federer v John Isner
After the disappointing finish to Indian Wells and a missed chance at 101 and No. 28 on the Masters circuit, you just know Federer is not going to want to blow a second chance in a big final against a non-Big 4. And, realistically, this could be his final Miami tournament – he does turn 38 in August and he seems to put a priority on Indian Wells over Miami.
I know Isner’s playing so well. He’s the defending champ, he’s won 11 straight matches and he hasn’t dropped a set. But after an opening set hiccup against Radu Albot, Federer’s been far more dominant – he hasn’t even needed a tiebreaker! – while Isner got a little lucky to get through Roberto Bautista Agut in straights (the Spaniard led in the second set breaker), Kyle Edmund also had an early lead in the first set breaker and then FAA twice served for the match.
Federer’s also won five of seven meetings with John and I think this comes down to break points. With the way Federer’s serving and hitting off the ground, I don’t see how Isner gets many, if any, break opportunities. Whereas, I do see Federer slicing and dicing his way to a couple here and there, and then converting. And he’s one of the rare players who actually doesn’t mind facing the big bomber servebots. Or so he says.
“I don’t mind it,” Federer said of playing big men like Isner. “I enjoy the challenge, because believe it or not, maybe rallies are actually longer than you think sometimes.”
But he added he doesn’t have a good read on John’s serve. Or, again, so he says.
“No. 1, you want to connect,” Federer said of how to handle a serve like Isner’s. “Secondly you want to get in a neutral position, which is very difficult, because you know he’s looking for his forehand or he looks to come in or try to take charge of the point.
“Then you just hope that sort of the stars align, that you pick the right side, that he picks the wrong side, that maybe he misses a serve, that you can put him in uncomfortable situations time and time again, and at the end somehow you find a way.
“He’s definitely got one of the serves you can basically not read. It’s that simple.”
I remember how will Federer had a read on Andy Roddick’s serve and I think while Isner’s is different, he’ll get enough slice returns back to trouble John and come out on top without the need of a single tiebreak.
Of course if you are Isner, you want to pound the serve, go for broke on the return and hope to keep the momentum in breakers.
The Pick: Federer in 2
With the way the season is going, just anything is possible these days. So, yeah, Isner could get that serve pumping and streamroll Roger.
ESPN2 has the match at 1pm.
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