Tennis

Full stadium rocks as Federer beats del Potro in Miami Open

Roger Federer returns a ball hit by Juan Martin Del Potro at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Fla., March 27, 2017. Federer won the match in two sets.
Roger Federer returns a ball hit by Juan Martin Del Potro at the Miami Open on Key Biscayne, Fla., March 27, 2017. Federer won the match in two sets. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Roger Federer’s Monday began with three iguanas joining him on the practice court before his highly anticipated Miami Open match against Juan Martin del Potro. One iguana was perched atop the fence, one was on the ground and one was between the fence and the green screen.

“I think reptiles are amazing animals,” said Federer, who took a selfie with one of his scaly visitors. “I’ve always been a fan of crocodiles, iguanas, all reptiles. They’re incredible survivors.”

The same could be said of Federer, who at 35 is playing some of the best tennis of his distinguished career. Coming off titles at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, California, Federer is rolling in Key Biscayne, as well.

On Monday afternoon, he reached the Round of 16 with a clinical 6-3, 6-4 dispatching of popular Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. Federer needed just 82 minutes to win the match, improving his season record to 15-1. He has won 14 consecutive sets.

The match against del Potro didn’t look or sound like a third-round encounter. It had the feeling of a final — or a soccer match — with more than 14,000 spirited fans packed to the top of the stadium. Del Potro’s fans, many in Argentine soccer jerseys and waving flags, serenaded him with “Ole-Ole-Ole-Ole, Del Po! Del Po!”

Both players are beloved and have endured injuries in recent years. Federer missed six months last year with a knee injury. Del Potro has had four wrist surgeries, which weakened his backhand.

“Shortly before I walked out to the court, you could sense the atmosphere,” Federer said. “That’s when I told myself, ‘Just be prepared for something different. I think if the match would have gone three sets or tiebreakers or something even closer, it would have been really epic.

“Great atmosphere. Nice weather. Great opponent. Great crowd. What else do you need?’’

Del Potro also praised the crowd.

“It is unusual for an opponent of Federer or [Rafael] Nadal to get the kind of support I had out there,” said del Potro, who had not played against Federer since 2103. “I could feel the warmth of the Latin fans in Miami. It was a spectacular atmosphere.”

The Swiss and Argentine had played 20 times before Monday, and their previous seven matches went the distance. The most memorable were the 2009 U.S. Open, which del Potro won in five sets (still his only Grand Slam trophy) and the 2012 Olympic semifinal on the Wimbledon grass, where Federer outlasted del Potro 19-17 in the deciding third set.

Monday’s match was devoid of drama. Other than facing (and saving) four break points serving at 5-3, Federer was never really in danger.

“I felt like I was in control, and I was able to generate more chances than he did,” Federer said. “I feel like I earned it more. I was more the aggressor. It was more on my racket, and I like it that way. But if he would have broken back in the second … things would be very, very different.”

Said del Potro: “At the moment, [Federer’s] backhand is even better than before because his legs are moving faster than years ago. He played the break points better, that was the difference.”

In the late-night match, 36-year-old Venus Williams -- the oldest woman in the draw -- beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). The final two points of the match featured long rallies and brilliant shotmaking. Williams is a three-time champion here and first played Key Biscayne as a 16-year-old in 1997. Her opponents included Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati.

“I was still in braces, it’s been a long time,” Williams said, smiling, in her post-match interview.

Federer’s next opponent is No. 14 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

He has never lost a set off Bautista Agut in their previous five meetings, but Federer insists he is not taking anything for granted. Bautista Agut rallied to beat American Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Monday.

“Querrey was playing so well the first set, I thought at some point he was going to steamroll, but Bautista Agut competes so well point for point, day in and day out,” Federer said. “He plays a ton of tournaments, and he’s just really match tough.”

Federer plays Bautista Agut late Tuesday afternoon.

“It’s not something I’m used to, actually playing back-to-back days,” Federer said. “I hope my body’s going to be fine.”

Top seed Stan Wawrinka won the evening match 6-3, 6-4 over Malek Jaziri and will play 19-year-old German Alexander Zverev on Tuesday. The demonstrative Zverev beat American John Isner in a 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-5) thriller. Isner served 28 aces, but it wasn’t enough.

Also on Tuesday, Jack Sock and qualifier Jared Donaldson meet in an All-American match, and another American, Donald Young, plays Italian Fabio Fognini.

Other matches include Rafael Nadal vs. Nicolas Mahut; Kei Nishikori vs. Federico DelBonis; Tomas Berdych vs. Adrian Mannarino; Karolina Pliskova vs. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni; and Caroline Wozniacki vs. Lucie Safarova. Nick Kyrgios, who beat Ivo Karlovic 6-4, 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2) plays the winner of Diego Schwartzman-David Goffin.

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