Roger Federer’s Magical Comeback Tour continued on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal, in the Miami Open final.
Defying his age once again, 35-year-old Federer became the oldest champion in tournament history to the delight of a record crowd of 14,766.
It was Federer’s third title here, and his first in 11 years. Nadal, meanwhile, went home empty-handed again after five finals on Key Biscayne.
“I’m happy we’re both here together, and I enjoy playing against you,” Federer said, upon receiving his trophy and winners’ check for just over $1 million. “This is where it all started, in 2004, when you were a little boy that grew into a big man and strong man. We’ve had some epic matches over the years, which I didn’t always enjoy, but mostly we had some great battles
“In 2005 I beat you very lucky in the finals here. I told you then you would win this tournament. I truly believe you are going to still win it. You’re too good not to.”
Nadal thanked the crowd in English and Spanish, and congratulated Federer on his remarkable start to the 2017 season. Coming off a six-month layoff to deal with a knee injury, Federer is the hottest player on tour with a 19-1 record (7-0 vs. Top 10 players) and titles at the Australian Open, Indian Wells (Calif.), and Miami Open.
It is Federer’s best season start since 2006, when he went 33-1.
“Roger, congratulations on one of the best comebacks ever after an injury, so well done, I’m happy for you,” Nadal said. “Thank you very much everybody in Miami. Even if I lost for the third time this year with Roger, it was a good start of the season, playing already three finals, disappointing for me that I keep trying, and every three years I am here, in this position, but always with the smaller trophy.”
It was the 37th meeting between the Swiss and Spaniard, and the third this year. Federer won all three – in five sets at the Australian Open final, two weeks ago in the Round of 16 at Indian Wells, and then on Sunday, in front of an adoring audience that showed love and respect for both players.
There were equal chants of “Vamos, Rafa!” and “Go Roger!” and late in the second half, the Federer fans sang: “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole! Ro-ger! Ro-ger!”
The match was played in the sweltering midday heat, and there was some question whether Federer, a father of four, would have enough energy to keep up with the 30-year-old Nadal after the electrifying, grueling semifinal Federer played against Nick Kyrgios Friday night. The semifinal went to tiebreakers in all three sets, and lasted more than three hours.
Federer said he conserved energy before Sunday’s match, didn’t get too worked up about the occasion, and told himself to “be brave” on big points.
“It was more of a fight mode I was in, just trying to stay afloat because physically, emotionally it's been a draining week,” Federer said. “I was relaxed because I was tired. I was just like, `OK, go through the warmup, go through everything, and then once the match starts it's all go. That's when we'll get excited for two or three hours if I have to, but that's all I have energy for.”
Both players blew break point opportunities early. Federer was 0-for-5 and Nadal was 0-for-4. But then Federer got the break he needed in the eighth game of the first set, went ahead 5-3, and held on to win the set 6-3.
Nadal left the court briefly after the first set to change his shorts, which were very thin, soaked with sweat, and clearly bothering him.
Nadal overcame a pair of break points serving at 3-3, held on, and pumped his fists in exultation when he took a 4-3 lead in the second set. But a few games later, Federer got the break he’d need to take a 5-4 lead, and then he served out the match for the victory.
The Spaniard felt the match “was closer than the results show” and Federer agreed.
“If you were just watching this match on T.V. somewhere around the world, see the score, it might look like just a few break points, but it was a much closer match than that,” Federer said.
Federer said he doesn’t plan to play any clay tournaments until the French Open. “Now I can take a break, because the body needs a break, the mind needs a break, the family needs me again. I want to be there...I’m not 24 anymore.”
But on Sunday afternoon, he sure looked like it.
The unseeded team of Gabriela Dabrowski (Canada) and Xu Yifan (China), playing in their first event together, won the women’s doubles title 6-4, 6-3 over No. 3 seed Sania Mirza of India and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic. No Canadian or Chinese woman had ever won the doubles trophy at the Miami Open.