There are few things that can come between Miami Open tennis fans and sun worshipping. Roger Federer is one of them.
Since the tournament began last week at its new home at Hard Rock Stadium, several of the sport’s top stars played before half-empty seats inside the stadium because thousands of fans chose to pack the outer courts or watch the marquee matches on giant outdoor screens while dining, lounging and sunning in the expanded, stylish fan village.
But when Federer plays, the fans flock to their mostly-shaded seats in the football stadium.
That was the case again on Wednesday afternoon, in a fourth-round match rescheduled from late Tuesday night due to a rain delay. Federer, a three-time Miami Open champion, didn’t disappoint. He rolled past Daniil Medvedev of Russia 6-4, 6-2 and dominated from start to finish.
He won 85 percent of his first service points and won 11 of 17 points at the net, compared to 3 of 13 for Medvedev. The only complaint fans might have had was that he won too quickly, in 61 minutes, and they would have liked a longer show.
Among the fans in the audience was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who made a state proclamation before the match and said he dabbled in tennis in his younger days and was an Andre Agassi fan. Retired Heat star Chris Bosh was on hand for the night session and did the coin toss for the late men’s match. Dallas Mavericks’ big man Dirk Nowitzki was also expected.
Federer advanced to Thursday’s quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa, a 6-8 big server who reached the 2018 Wimbledon final after knocking off Federer in the quarterfinals. Anderson rallied from two sets down and saved one match point that day, and the match lasted four hours, 14 minutes.
“If you beat me at Wimbledon, you’ve got my attention,” Federer said of Anderson. “So, from that standpoint, I know what I’m about to expect. The matches I have played against him I know can be extremely close always, just because of his sheer possibilities that he has on the serve. I believe that probably the best surface for him is this kind of a type of hard court here in the States where he’s spent a lot of his time practicing. Coming from South Africa, I’m sure this is the kind of court also he played on.”
Anderson was a three-time All-American at the University of Illinois and lives in Gulf Stream, Fla., in Palm Beach County.
“I’ve just got to make sure I protect my serve very well and slice maybe sometimes, get into the rallies, and then find a way,” Federer said. “It will be interesting to see how it’s going to go.”
In the other big men’s match Wednesday afternoon, defending champion John Isner advanced to the Final Four – the 6-10 American is a huge college basketball fan. He fired 24 aces in a 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-5) win over his friend, Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, who was coming off an upset of top-ranked Novak Djokovic.
Isner is 7-0 in tiebreakers over his first four matches, and it was his 10th consecutive match win at this tournament.
As if all those tiebreakers weren’t enough to exhaust him, Isner had a third-round doubles match Wednesday night with partner Sam Querrey.
“We all know I like to tire myself out,” said Isner, smiling. “The good thing is I don’t play (Thursday), I know that much. I’m very happy to be in the semis.”
Asked why he plays doubles when he has a chance to go deep in the tournament, he said: “When you first come out to play doubles in a tournament like this, you use it for practice. But at the same time, I’d love to win this tournament in doubles. Sam and I are a very good team. I’m just a little bit tired.”
He relied on his trusty serve to neutralize Agut’s game, including back-to-back 134 mph aces in the second-set tiebreaker.
“He was embroiling me in a baseline game on his serve and was making it very tough for me because he’s just so, so tough from the baseline,” Isner said.
Isner made it a point to mention how well-liked Agut is among his peers.
“He’s everyone’s friend,” Isner said of Agut. “He’s such a good guy. I think no one really talks about how nice and genial he is off the court. He’s one of the best guys we have on tour, hands down.”
Next up for Isner is the winner of Wednesday’s late match between young guns Felix Auger-Aliassime, an 18-year-old Canadian qualifier, and 13th-ranked Borna Coric, a 22-year-old Croatian. Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player to reach the quarters since Andy Roddick in 2001.
Either way, Isner knows he’s in for a battle.
“I haven’t seen Felix play too much, but I know he’s one of the brightest up and coming stars we have,” Isner said. “And Borna, same goes for him. Very young, very talented. They have similar games. They like to put in a heavy first serve and rip the ball from the back.”
Isner’s Miami Open title is his only Masters event title in his 13-year career.
“I love playing here,” he said. “It’s one of the best cities in the world. The greatest thing about being a professional tennis player is we travel to the greatest cities all over the world. Aside from that, I really like the conditions here. Good recipe for me.
“I did say prior to this tournament that chances are I’m not going to defend this title, and I’ll still keep saying that because I’ve only won one in my career. So, do the math. But I’m two wins away right now.”
On the women’s side, second-seeded Simona Halep advanced to the semifinals after rallying from down 1-5 in the second set to beat Qiang Wang of China 6-4, 7-5. She will play No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova, who beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4 Wednesday night. If Halep reaches the final, she will take over the No. 1 ranking.