The biggest challenge Novak Djokovic faced en route to winning his fourth Sony Open title on Sunday might have been managing to get through his post-match on-court interview without getting the celebratory bubbles, sent off prematurely, in his mouth.
It certainly wasn’t the top-ranked Rafael Nadal, normally a diligent obstacle in their long-standing rivalry that the Spaniard still leads 22-18, providing much provocation in Djokovic’s imposing 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Djokovic joins Roger Federer, the guy he beat for the Indian Wells trophy two weeks ago, as the only other player to twice win the abutting Indian Wells and Miami tournaments in the same year. Federer orchestrated that feat in 2005-’06, Djokovic was successful in 2011 and ’14.
“That was a great confidence boost for me that I carried on in this week, and this tournament has been perfect from the beginning to the end,” said Djokovic, of winning his first two titles of the year. “The matches that I have played I played really well, and I elevated my game as the tournament progressed.
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“The best performance of the tournament came in the right moment on Sunday against the biggest rival.”
Apparently palm trees, beaches and sunny skies — three of Miami’s top drawing cards — suit Djokovic.
The Serbian’s four titles on the purple courts here (2007, ’11, ’12, ’14) puts him right behind Andre Agassi’s record six trophies for men at this event. Djokovic’s now won 18 of his last 19 matches played at the Sony with his only loss coming against Tommy Haas in the fourth-round last year.
Both players came to the final having been gifted with semifinal walkovers, which was an unprecedented Open Era occurrence at an ATP-level tournament. It turned out to be Djokovic’s second match where the opponent failed to show— his third-round opponent also withdrew.
Djokovic hadn’t played a match in three days and Nadal for two days when they walked on court for the final.
The match began on an even plane through the first five games with Nadal even having one break point — his only of the match — at 30-40 in the first game. Thereafter, Nadal was stymied in the 1 hour 23 minute match.
So what exactly did Djokovic do right? Basically he was perfection personified.
He served better. He returned serve better. He hit his groundstrokes with more power and pizazz. He even ventured forward to the net, a strategy he doesn’t often employ, but did impressively well.
In fact, Djokovic, who broke Nadal’s serve in the sixth game of the first set, and the first and ninth game of the second set, ended the exciting final point by scooping up a forehand half-volley for the win.
“Just the fact that I’m playing against Nadal and playing in the finals, fighting for trophy is already a huge motivation and responsibility to try to perform my best,” Djokovic said. “I didn’t have any letdowns throughout the match.
“I was in a very high level: serve, backhand, crosscourt, forehand. I have done everything right and I’m thrilled with my performance.”
As great as Djokovic played, it’s hard to ignore that Nadal was not quite himself.
A classy guy to the core, Nadal was unwilling to admit he felt anything but 100 percent in the match. But it seemed fairly evident he was struggling with his movement. At times, Nadal didn’t chase down balls he rarely would let go by without a concerted effort to hit.
“First few games I was there,” Nadal said. “I had the break point, and I played a few games, and a few games and a few points the right way, the right intensity.
“But for the rest, easy to analyze. The opponent was better than me. He was better than me in everything.”
For Nadal, it was a fourth final disappointment in Miami, one of only three of the exclusive nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments he’s yet to win, along with Shanghai and the Paris Indoors.
But not to worry. The world No. 1 Nadal will be back with the wish he can reach the final again before 2017.
“I did the final [here] every three years since I start my career, 2005, 2008, 2011 and ’14,” Nadal said. “Is good news that I am having a very long career. Maybe, if I’m able to play the finals before three years I will have more chances because seems like every three years not the right spot to win the tournament if I am in the final, no?”
In the women’s doubles, the wildcard team of Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki, who Hingis coaches, captured a 4-6, 6-4 [10-5] win over Russian second seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
Hingis, 33, a former five-time Grand Slam singles champion, last won a WTA title when she teamed with Maria Kirilenko to win the 2007 Doha, Qatar doubles trophy.
“Obviously, it’s very exciting when you convert the match point and you’re like, ‘Yes, we did it,’” Hingis said.