Miami Open Review: Tennis 101 with Roger Federer
The Miami Open has come a long way in its brief, yet storied history. The now iconic tournament first established itself 34 years ago, 50 miles north of Miami in Delray Beach. At the time it was called the Lipton International Players Championships and colloquially referred to as "Winter Wimbledon". It was the first substantial tournament of the year, and all the top tennis professionals turned out. It had become a well-established tournament, but its venue switched the following year to Boca Raton. It wasn't until 1987 before it nestled itself in picturesque Key Biscayne, officially becoming the Miami Open.
This year fans and players were frightened as the venue would change yet again, this time 40 minutes north of Key Biscayne to the home of the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Tournament director James Blake had about a years time to transform the grounds into a tennis haven, and for the most part, he succeeded. The chief complaint from players was the awkward transformation of the 65,000 capacity football stadium to the 'more intimate' 15,000 capacity center court.
It seemed the unfamiliar and awkward center court disrupted many of the top players' games. Namely, Zverev, Federer, and Djokovic struggled in their early matches. Zverev was defeated in his first match by an invigorated Ferrer. Even though the Spaniard will be leaving the sport after the Madrid Open, the match afforded his fans tennis redolent of his younger days. Djokovic was beaten by familiar foe Bautista Agut who defeated him earlier in the year at the Qatar Open. Djokovic left both Indian Wells and Miami earlier than desired, leaving fans questioning his form and himself questioning his tournament preparations. Federer, on the other hand, was able to dig out of a second-round battle with Albot, improving and adapting his game in the subsequent rounds.
Upsets were strewn elsewhere in the draw. Indian Wells Champion and current world No. 3 Dominic Thiem could not ride the heat wave from his desert win into Miami, losing to rising star Hurcakz in the second-round. Nishikori and Cilic also fell victim to an early exit to Lajovic and Rublev, respectively. These upsets opened up the draw and allowed for the Next Gen to carve through the tournament,
Canadian teenagers Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov showcased the future of the sport with their terrific runs. Auger-Aliassime has been having a breakout season, making his first ATP final in February at the Rio Open. Despite his success this season, he found himself in the qualifiers for the Miami Open. After battling through two qualifying matches, he powered through seeded players Fucsovics (29), Basilashvili (17), and Coric (11) to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal. Shapovalov also faced several tough opponents that included Rublev, Tsitsipas (8), and Tiafoe (28) to reach his third Masters 1000 semifinal. Their epic runs had Auger-Aliassime facing defending champion Isner, and Shapovalov facing three-time champion Federer; the flamboyant teenagers versus the 30-plus veterans. Their elders proved to still have a mental edge over the inexperienced stars on the big stages, with both teenagers being dismissed in straight sets.
The final had Isner defending his first Masters 1000 title against Federer, who enjoyed a 5-2 head-to-head record over the American. Federer's use of his disarming chip return exhibited why he typically enjoys success over big servers, breaking Isner three times in the opening set. Isner improved his serving in the second set but was hampered with a foot injury. Even Isner's serve could not dig him out of the hole he found himself in. Federer secured his 28th Masters 1000 title and fourth Miami Open title 6-1, 6-4 after an hour of play.
Federer surely silenced those who questioned the gas left in his tank after his Australian Open loss to Tsitsipas. He has now won 15 of his last 16 matches, making it to three consecutive finals, and now boasts 101 titles. Federer's dominance is reminiscent to his 2017 season, just like then he is now No.1 in terms of year-end ranking points. Except for this time there is something different. He is heading into the clay court season with no points to defend, meaning any success found there will translate to icing on the cake for his ranking. Along with this, he has few points to defend after that at Wimbledon and the US Open. He is clearly the most impressive player on tour currently and is well positioned to stake a claim for the year-end world No. 1 rank. His biggest obstacle obstructing that achievement is the most formidable of them all, his age.