Roger vs. Rafa. No last names necessary.
The latest chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis will be written at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Tennis Center of Crandon Park, on the same court where the rivalry began 13 years ago.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will battle for the Miami Open title, their third meeting this year and 37th overall. It will be the first 30-and-over final in the tournament’s 33 years — Federer is 35, Nadal 30.
When they first met on Key Biscayne, in the third round of the 2004 tournament, Nadal was a long-haired, little-known 17-year-old with big biceps. Nadal stunned Federer 6-3, 6-3. A year later, they would meet again in the final here, a marathon match Federer rallied to win 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. Federer went on to win the Miami title again in 2006, but not since. Nadal is in his fifth final here but has yet to win the title.
“Winning here would be something great, and it’s an important title that I didn’t win yet,” Nadal said. “But it doesn’t affect the way I am going to play.”
Nadal leads the series 23-13 (9-9 on hard courts), but Federer has won the past three. The Swiss beat the Spaniard in five sets in the Australian Open final on Jan. 29 and in the fourth round at Indian Wells (California) two weeks ago.
Federer enters the final with an 18-1 record this season (6-0 vs. top-10 players), his best start since 2006 when he went 33-1. If he wins, he will be the oldest champ in Miami history.
He is surprised to find himself in the final, considering he took off the final six months of last season with a knee injury. He is coming off a grueling but thrilling semifinal win over Nick Kyrgios that went to tiebreaks in all three sets and lasted over three hours on Friday night.
“When I came to Miami, I just thought, like I did in Indian Wells and Australia, I thought, ‘Ah, this is probably not going to work, eventually it’s just going to catch up with me,’ ” Federer said. “I thought Miami, [the surface] it’s slower. I already won Indian Wells. So, let’s be realistic here. Semis would be an unbelievable run. 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 here before. He’s definitely feeling fresher than I feel right now. It should be really exciting because we had this epic match in the 2005 finals here. It was a turning point in my career, to be quite honest. For me to be able to focus for maybe four hours, smashing forehand after forehand down the line, I remember I felt like I had to learn how to fight in matches, and there I showed it to myself and my team that I could do it.
“It was against somebody who ended up being my biggest rival. It’s definitely going to be very special playing Rafa here again. It feels like old times. We’re playing each other every week now. We can’t get enough of each other. Hopefully, it’s not our last match.”