By Justin Ross
Sport is a realm of timeless rivalries.
In basketball, it’s Celtics-Lakers. In baseball, it’s Yankees-Red Sox. In soccer, it’s Barcelona-Real Madrid.
And in tennis, it’s Federer-Nadal.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is a 13-year-old tale. Their battle began in Miami when a 17-year-old kid from Spain beat a 22-year-old young gun from Switzerland. After 36 career showdowns, they return to the same city that birthed their rivalry for the latest chapter in their battle.
Federer will meet Nadal in the Miami Open finals for their third clash of the season. In 2017, the Swiss magician has wins over the Spaniard at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, but Nadal leads the all-time series 23-13.
At the time of their first match, Facebook was a month old and the Motorola Razr was the trendy phone. The two are a little older and a little wiser, but they still carry the same relentless energy that has propelled them to prestige.
For Nadal, this is a chance to break the streak. The Spaniard has claimed the crown from coast to coast, but he’s 0-4 in the Miami Open finals. One more tournament win will place him at 70 ATP titles, joining Federer as the only active players in the club.
For Federer, this is another notch in the comeback tour. Plagued by injuries in 2016, tennis experts questioned his durability at age 35. With two huge wins on the season, he’s debunking criticism. A victory in Miami will give him three Sunshine Doubles, joining Novak Djokovic as the only players to win the Miami-Indian Wells combo in the same year at least three times.
Nadal’s road to the finals was a spirited triumph. With the crowd behind him, he dominated the likes of Philipp Kohlschreiber, Nicolas Mahut, and Jack Sock.
His semifinals matchup was a 6-1, 7-5 shellacking over Fabio Fognini, a fiery Italian who was coming off a victory against world No. 4 Kei Nishikori.
The Spaniard now holds an 8-3 record against Fognini in head-to-head play. The Italian was the first unseeded semifinalist in Miami since 2007 when qualifier Guillermo Canas reached the final.
Nadal opened the first set by claiming four out of five games. Fognini had a chance to hold and make it 4-2, but he blew a 40-15 lead in the sixth game. The Spaniard claimed the 6-1 set win in just 25 minutes.
In the second set, Fognini brought more energy in taking a 5-4 lead, but the Spaniard rallied with three straight wins to close the match. During the contest, Nadal didn’t face one break point.
“Winning or losing, being honest, not going to change my career. Just helps to add something important for me and that's it,” the Spaniard said. “I am very happy about the first part of the season on hard courts before the clay arrives. I won a lot of matches. I have a lot of points. I am in a privileged position of the race.”
Federer’s run to the finals was one of more peaks and valleys. Championed by his devoted Florida fans, he dominated Frances Tiafoe, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Roberto Bautista Agut. However, his quarters and semis matches were anything, but easy.
Against Tomas Berdych, he needed to rally from two match points in a thrilling quarterfinals victory.
His semifinals contest was a 7-6(9), 6(9)-7, 7-6 (5) marathon over Nick Kyrgios, a 21-year-old Australian who defeated Federer in their only previous meeting.
Federer’s maturity and development shined bright in this one. The 35-year-old kept serene composure after he dropped the second-set tiebreak. A younger Federer may have lost his mental grip, but not everything worsens with age. The Swiss star told reporters he feels like he’s doing some things better now than he ever did.
In the final set, Federer rallied from a mini-break to level the set at 5-5. Kyrgios had a costly double-fault, which gave Federer his third match point. This time, the Swiss magician wasn’t dropping another tiebreak. With a huge serve, he wrapped up the match, which took a little more than 3 hours.
Kyrgios falls in the semis for his second straight Miami Open. Federer’s 18-1 start to the season is his second best since 2006 when he went 33-1.
“Here we are in the finals and I get a chance to win the tournament. Still, I feel like there is a mountain to climb in Rafa. He's not won it yet before,” Federer explained. “He's definitely feeling fresher than I feel right now. That's not a problem. I'll be ready on Sunday. Should be really exciting because we had this epic match in 2005. The finals was unbelievable.”
Nadal’s semifinals match was a routine win, but Federer’s was full of pins and needles. One embodies the pride of Mallorca, Spain, while the other hails from Basel, Switzerland. Both listed at 6-foot-1-inch, the two come from different paths, but they know each other better than they know their own rackets.
Based on crowd noise, Federer and Nadal are the two most beloved players in Miami. Will Miami’s Latin pride and Hispanic influence flock to the Spanish Bull, or will The Swiss Maestro’s superb start to the year draw more support?
It’s hard to judge, but we will have our answers Sunday when a winner is crowned. The men’s final is set to begin at 1 p.m.
Check out the full results here: http://miamiopen.com/live-scoring-2017
Check out the schedule of match play here: http://miamiopen.com/2017-draws-and-order-of-play
Tickets for the annual event start at $12 for youth and $15 for adults. A group rate of $7 is also available for 20 or more and grant access to all day session matches. Tickets are on sale now, for more information go to www.miamiopen.com or call the Miami Open ticket office at 305-442-3367.
The 2017 Miami Open is scheduled for March 20 – April 2 and will once again be the hottest ticket in town. With ticket packages starting at just $136 and individual sessions starting at $20 the Miami Open will be the place-to-be.