Tennis

This Miamian didn’t beat Nadal. But he played a part in Federer’s victory

Roger Federer shakes hands with his hitting partner Adrian Escarate prior to the men's final at the Miami Open between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Sunday, April 2, 2017.
Roger Federer shakes hands with his hitting partner Adrian Escarate prior to the men's final at the Miami Open between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Sunday, April 2, 2017. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

Adrian Escarate didn’t win a penny of the $1,175,505 that Miami Open champion Roger Federer earned Sunday for defeating Rafael Nadal.

But be assured that Escarate, though not outwardly beating his chest, feels proud that he played a small part in getting the world’s sixth-ranked tennis player prepared to beat the equally respected seventh-ranked Nadal.

“Yes, I do,’’ he agreed on Sunday afternoon. “I feel like I did a good job.’’

Escarate, 28, an assistant St. Thomas University men’s tennis coach and Miami Killian High alum, served as a tournament-designated “hitting partner’’ for the past two weeks of the Miami Open. He warmed up several world greats, usually hours before their matches. But none were more famous than Federer, 35, who became the oldest Miami Open victor with his 6-3, 6-4 victory.

At 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Escarate was on Stadium Court with Federer, hitting ground stroke after ground stroke, setting up lobs, slamming overheads, moving his iconic partner back and forth for about 25 minutes.

“It was a surreal experience,’’ said Escarate, a native Chilean who came to Miami with his parents at age 3 and has been attending the Miami Open every year since he was 5. “My parents were there, my uncle, some friends – a pretty big crowd. I was just trying to hit my best, trying to move and not let the nerves get to me. Just trying to keep the ball deep and match his speed.”

Before Sunday’s practice session, Federer, from Switzerland, asked that Escarate hit with him Saturday at about 12:30 p.m. on the seventh floor roof of a Miami Beach hotel. “I couldn’t believe it,’’ he said.

One reason Escarate, a former St. Thomas player and top juniors competitor, was in high demand as a tennis partner for the Miami Open is that he is left-handed, as is Nadal. Thus, practicing with him helped prepare Federer and others for their next match.

“The ball comes with a different spin when you play a lefty,’’ explained Escarate, who also teaches at the Biltmore and Salvadore Park in Coral Gables. “It’s traveling in a different direction than usual. Usually, a player’s forehand is their strength, so it’s easier for the lefty to go to the player’s backhand.’’

Among several players with whom Escarate practiced were 55th-ranked Nicolas Mahut of France and Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the World No. 4 who lost in a quarterfinal, as well as American Shelby Rogers, who lost to left-handed top women’s seed Angelique Kerber.

Escarate, who is studying for his masters in communications at St. Thomas, made the cut with about eight others, he said, during a mid-March tryout at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park, where the tournament is played.

The hitting-partner gig is volunteer, but freebies include some tournament T-shirts, sweater, cap, parking pass, about $20 in daily food money, water and Gatorade.

Escarate said Federer was quiet, but “a nice guy’’ and thanked him several times.

One coveted prize Escarate didn’t get: a ticket to see Sunday’s final.

“Watching it from the players’ lounge,’’ Escarate texted during the match.

He left it happy.

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