Excitement builds for return of Nadal, Federer at Sony Open

There is good news and not-so-good news for tennis fans planning to attend the Sony Open, which opens Monday in Key Biscayne and runs through March 30.

The good news is that top-ranked Rafael Nadal and 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer are coming back to the Tennis Center of Crandon Park after missing last year’s tournament.

Nadal skipped it because of a knee injury and Federer took a seven-week spring break in 2013. The two have been South Florida headliners for years, and their absence was felt at the box office. Ticket sales dipped from 326,000 to 308,000, and tournament director Adam Barrett attributed that, in part, to missing Rafa and Roger.

“Those two guys have a special place in the history of tennis. They’re bigger than the game, so we’re happy to have them back,” Barrett said. “There is an extra gear of excitement created when they play, and last year, unfortunately, the stars didn’t line up for us because we lost both of them for different reasons.”

This year, Nadal and Federer join an all-star field that includes defending champions Serena Williams and Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Maria Sharapova and Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka.

The not-so-good news is that structural repairs to the Bear Cut Bridge that leads to the Key were supposed to be completed in February, but they have been delayed until June. Fans should allow a little bit of extra time and expect some traffic congestion.

There will be slight lane adjustments, but two lanes will be open in each direction and there will be a work area dividing the incoming and outgoing traffic. A 14-foot-wide bike and pedestrian lane was opened this week.

“I was just out on the bridge, and believe traffic flow will be considerably better this year than last year,” Barrett said.

Qualifying rounds are Monday and Tuesday, the women’s main draw begins Tuesday and the men’s main draw begins Wednesday. Williams, ranked No. 1 in the world, is scheduled to play her first match in the Thursday afternoon session. Djokovic opens play Friday night, and Nadal will be the Saturday night highlight match. Federer’s first match will be determined by the draw, which is Monday.

Murray, who owns a downtown Miami condo and spends part of the offseason here, won last year’s title over Spaniard David Ferrer. He underwent back surgery in the offseason and is still playing his way into form. Murray lost in the early rounds in Indian Wells, Calif., last week.

Nadal’s back troubles have flared up, and he lost in the third round at Indian Wells to Alexandr Dolgopolov, an exciting Ukrainian player who is giving people back home something to feel good about amidst political upheaval.

Federer seems recharged, is playing well, and returns to the top five next week for the first time since last August.

“There is a sense of calmness to my game right now,” Federer said last week. “Also confidence. But also that grit and wanting-to-win-badly feeling is out there, which was hard to find at times last year. So now I got it all. It’s nice proving it to myself and the team and my fans that they can still count on me.”

Williams, like Federer a 17-time Grand Slam champion, has won the Sony a record six times, including last year over rival Sharapova. At 32, she continues to dominate the women’s game. She won the French Open and U.S. Open last year, and is looking for a big showing in Key Biscayne after losing in the fourth round at the Australian Open.