The squeegees and air blowers had more court time than players on a soggy Thursday afternoon at the Miami Open. Intermittent rain showers over Hard Rock Stadium wreaked havoc with the women’s semifinals, men’s quarters and doubles matches as players and fans scurried in and out of cover.
Unlike the Marlins, who were able to close their stadium roof and host Opening Day on Thursday, Miami Open executives spent the day staring at weather maps, scrambling, and shuffling the schedule.
As of 6:30 p.m., only four games of the women’s 1 p.m. semifinal had been played, with Anett Kontaveir of Estonia and Ashleigh Barty of Australia tied at 2-2 on Stadium Court. Their match finally resumed and Barty, the 12th seed and a former cricket player, advanced to Saturday’s final with a 6-3, 6-3 win. She will play the winner of Thursday’s late match between No. 2 Simona Halep and No. 5 Karolina Pliskova.
Barty is the first Australian – male or female – to reach a final in Miami.
Three-time champion and No. 4 seed Roger Federer got the night session back on schedule, racing through the first set and advancing to the semifinals with a 6-0, 6-4 win over sixth-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa, who beat Federer in the 2018 Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Federer’s next opponent is Canadian 19-year-old rising star Denis Shapovalov, who rallied to beat American Frances Tiafoe 6-7 (7-5), 6-4, 6-2 in a battle of young guns. Federer and Shapovalov play Friday night at 7. They have never faced each other, and Shapovalov said it is his dream to face the Swiss 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“This is definitely a match I’ve been looking forward to my entire life, a dream come true, to play a semifinal, with the stakes so high against your idol,” Shapovalov said. “I’ll need to wear some tennis sunglasses so I don’t see him (smiling) so I see blurry or something, or I see someone else on the other side. No, seriously, I’m going to go out and enjoy myself. Obviously, it’s going to be a difficult match.”
Shapovalov, nicknamed “Shapo”, joins an even younger Canadian player – 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime – in the semis. Auger-Aliassime will play defending champion John Isner at 1 p.m. on Friday.
“I think it’s great for the game,” Federer said of the emerging new talent. “They’ll carry the game when we’re long gone. I look forward to watching them slug it out when I’m on the couch. They’re really good players, and really good people, too. It’s going to be a really interesting year with these young guys – and these two both from Canada.”
Federer invited Auger-Aliassime to train with him in Dubai last year, and said he loves Shapovalov’s forehand and attitude.
The quarterfinal between Shapovalov and Tiafoe, which was scheduled to start around 3 p.m. on Stadium Court, was moved to Grandstand and finally got going nearly four hours later in front of a spirited crowd.
Fans got a glimpse of the future of men’s tennis as two of the ATP’s “Next Gen” stars went at it.
Both players have compelling backstories of immigrant parents who left their homelands to give their children a better life.
Shapovalov was born in Israel to Russian immigrants, and the family moved to Toronto when he was nine months old. His mother, Tessa, played professional tennis in Russia and runs a tennis academy. Last year, he became the youngest player in 13 years to break the Top 30. The powerful lefty was ranked No. 23 heading into the Miami Open and will enter the Top 20 with Thursday’s victory.
He has beaten Juan Martin DelPotro, Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, but has yet to reach a final of a Masters-level event.
Tiafoe, the 2018 Australian Open quarterfinalist, is the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone who moved to the Washington, D.C., area to escape civil war in their country. His father, Frances, Sr., was a construction worker and then the head of maintenance at the Junior Champions Tennis Center in College Park, Md. One of the perks of the job was that Tiafoe and his twin brother, Franklin, got free tennis lessons.
In 2013, Tiafoe won the Orange Bowl Boys’ 18s title at age 15 to become the youngest champion in history. He has been improving ever since with signature wins over DelPotro and Tomas Berdych. In 2018 he won his first title at Delray Beach.
Shapovalov is good friends with Tiafoe, and has gotten to know Auger-Aliassime. He feels the younger players make the sport more exciting.
“You still have kind of the legends, Roger, Rafa, still there on top, but you have a lot of newcomers with talent kind of gunning for them,” he said “Every week it feels like someone new is making a breakthrough and playing well.
“I think it’s really healthy for the sport to see a couple new stars in the game, and, you know, the fans get to kind of watch something new other than the top four.”
Federer agrees. He said the rise of the new generation reminds him of the 2001 ATP campaign called “New Balls Please,” which highlighted Federer, Andy Roddick, Gustavo Kuerten, Lleyton Hewitt, Tommy Haas and Marat Safin. They were the players who followed the Andre Agassi-Pete Sampras group.
“I think it really fuels them with motivation, to be able to be better than a similar-age guy,” Federer said.
A men’s doubles match between twins Bob and Mike Bryan and Marcelo Melo/Lukasz Kubot was knotted at 2-2 on the Grandstand when rain halted play, but that match, and another scheduled doubles match were postponed until Friday to ensure the singles matches were completed.