A lot has changed since the time Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal played their first match at Miami in 2004 which Nadal won in straight sets. Thereafter, Federer won their first finals at Miami in 2005, which he claims was a turning point in his career. The last time these two met at Miami was in 2011 where Nadal managed a comfortable win. Though Federer trails their rivalry 13-23, he has won the last three matches against Nadal including the epic Australian Open finals to flag off his 2017 season and at Indian Wells a couple of weeks ago. He has made some much needed changes in his game and has finally been able to overcome petty mental issues that played a vital role in his previous losses against Nadal. His backhand has become lethal and he is taking the ball really early in order to accelerate the point as much as possible.
Another thing that seems to be working well for Federer is the fact that he keeps his expectations low entering into a tournament and is not worried about the rankings anymore. He takes one match at a time and tries to just get through to the next round. He sets achievable goals and anything over and above is a bonus. This approach has done wonders for him, as it eases the pressure that a player might have going into a tournament.
Federer has had two back-to-back matches where he has barely been able to cross the finish line. But then, a victory is a victory and you take it any which way it comes. And when there is no peril in the fight, there is no glory in the triumph. Both Federer and Nadal are playing amazing tennis and have been really consistent so far. Consistency is one of the most difficult things to maintain in tennis and something that the next generation has not been able to adopt yet. In matches like these, a blink of an eye decides the winner.
Nadal has never won this tournament and while this could be his best chance, Federer is not going to just bend over. Nadal will have to bring out his A-game and there is a good chance that even that might not suffice. The conditions were slightly different when Federer defeated Nadal at Indian Wells. Compared to the way the ball flies in the dry desert air of California, the slower court surface and the cloying humidity and heat of Miami lower the pace of the ball. And slower the court, greater the advantage for Nadal.
Federer is 18-1 this season and this is one of his best starts to a season. He has won both the major tournaments of this season and in doing so, became the oldest person to win an ATP 1000 tournament. Should he win tonight, he would better his own record from last month. In the Race to London, Federer has 3045 points, which is almost double the points of the person behind him (Nadal 1635).
Federer is a two-time champion here (2005,06), while Nadal is looking to win his first title at Miami (4 time finalist). The last time Federer won this tournament, he beat Ivan Ljubicic (his current coach), the man responsible for Federer’s resurgence.
Federer is one of the seven players to have won titles at Indian Wells and Miami in the same year, better known as the ‘Sunshine Slam’. Federer has done it twice while Djokovic has done it four times. Should he win tonight, this would also be just the second time where Federer will end up winning the first three major tournaments of the year starting with the Australian Open.
A Federer v. Nadal match right now is like Manchester United v. Real Madrid, Vettel v. Hamilton this season, Graf v. Seles ( before the incident) or Federer v. Nadal a decade ago. This is as good as it gets!