Tennis

Federer defeats defending champion Isner in straight sets for fourth Miami Open title

Roger Federer embraces the 2019 Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium

Tennis champion Roger Federer embraces the 2019 Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium after it leaving Key Biscayne after 30 years, March 20, 2019.
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Tennis champion Roger Federer embraces the 2019 Miami Open at Hard Rock Stadium after it leaving Key Biscayne after 30 years, March 20, 2019.

John Isner, hobbled but realistic, was thinking the same thing everyone else at Hard Rock Stadium was thinking as Roger Federer neutralized the American’s serve to easily win his fourth Miami Open title, 6-1, 6-4, in just over an hour Sunday afternoon.

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John Isner, of United States, is being treated by one coaching staff after injuring his foot during the final of the Miami Open tennis tournament against Roger Federer, of Switzerland, at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Roger Federer won 6-1, 6-4. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

“Roger, you were entirely too good today,” Isner said during the trophy ceremony. “You were entirely too good this whole tournament. You were entirely too good your whole career. It’s absolutely incredible what you’re doing. We’re so lucky to have you and we want you to keep playing and literally never retire.”

Tournament director James Blake, a former Top 10 player, echoed Isner’s sentiment: “We’re all just in awe.”

Federer, the 37-year-old father of four and 20-time Grand Slam champion, improved to 16-1 lifetime against Americans in finals. It was also his 101st title, eight shy of Jimmy Connors’ record.

Afterward, he reminisced about his history in Miami, dating back to his days as a petulant, pony-tailed teenager playing in the junior Orange Bowl tournaments.

“Its been a super long journey for me here,” Federer said. “My first wild card was here, my first final in 2002 against (Andre) Agassi. I won the junior world title in 1998 at Key Biscayne, and played juniors in Flamingo Park. Miami’s always been important to me. To stand here now really means a lot.”

Isner, the defending champion, stands 6-10, towers over his opponents, and had reached the final with the help of a tournament-high 98 aces. But Federer rendered Isner’s serve ineffective with his return and shot variety. Going into the final match Isner had won all 10 sets he played at this Miami Open, and nine of those were in tiebreakers.

Federer never let it get that close. He chose to receive the first game, applied pressure right away, broke Isner and cruised through the first set in 24 minutes. Isner injured his foot sometime during that set, called for a trainer, and was clearly hobbling toward the end of the match. But he insisted that is not the reason he lost.

“Somewhere along in the first set I started feeling some pain on the top of my foot, and it didn’t go away. It only kept getting worse,” Isner said. “It’s a terrible feeling, because you’re on an island out there, going up against the greatest player ever, playing in this incredible atmosphere, and my foot’s killing me.

“Not that I would have won the match, anyways, let’s make that clear, but I think I could have made for a more interesting match and one that was a little more fun.”

All the talk heading into the match was about Isner’s serve, but Federer’s serve proved more effective in this matchup. He didn’t face a single break point and won 32 of 35 points on his serve.

Federer noticed Isner was injured, saw the speed on his serve drop from 130 mph to 110 and then 105, but he has seen the hard-working American play tired and hurt, so he never let his guard down.

“I have seen John being incredibly tired and still serving his spots, so I knew he could do that,” Federer said. “One match came to my mind, I think it was against Roddick at the US Open in the fifth set when he just kept doing the same thing for the whole fifth set and he was able to beat him in the breaker. I felt, `Well, you never know’.

The fourth Miami Open trophy had special meaning for Federer. Each has a special place in his heart.

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Roger Federer, of Switzerland kisses the trophy after defeating John Isner, of United States 6-1, 6-4 during the final of the Miami Open tennis tournament at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The first, when he beat Rafael Nadal in 2005: “I felt like it reflected who I have become, being able to fight back, find a way to win. I know I got lucky in that match, but then ended up playing unbelievable tennis in the fifth set. I really feel like it was a big moment for me in my life, in my career.”

The second, when he beat Ivan Ljubicic in 2006: “That was during the time where I was dominating so much, winning so much over Top 10 players, it was like, `How long could I keep it up?’’’

The third, in 2017, over Nadal: “Maybe it didn’t come as a surprise for people, for me it still did, because I felt like the tank was empty. I had a tough week here. And then I remember the final, it was incredibly humid, super hot. Rafa had his chances and somehow I just squeezed it out. That was a beautiful win for me.”

And this one? “Also I didn’t expect it, to be honest. Losing a close final at Indian Wells (the previous week). New venue, didn’t know what to expect there. I mean, almost losing against (Radu) Albot in the first round. These Masters 1000s are hard to win. They are really a test for me, especially later in my career. They don’t come around very often, so when they do, it’s a bit of a surprise for me. That’s why this one feels really cool in many ways.”

As for Isner, he heads home to his wife and six-month-old daughter, Hunter Grace.

“Getting married and having a kid is something I have always wanted to do, and gave me a new perspective. I will fly home and get to be with them, and that is a very, very good consolation prize.”

Mertens-Sabalenka win doubles: In just their third tournament together, Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka won the women’s doubles title 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 over Samantha Stosur-Shuai Zhang. It was their 10th straight win and they became the fifth team to win the Sunshine Double – by winning back-to-back trophies at Indian Wells, Calif. and Miami.

Mertens, of Belguim, and Sabalenka, of Belarus, paired up for the first time before the Australian Open, and made a run to the Round of 16. They had an easier time reaching Sunday’s final than Stosur-Zhang, who required a championship tie-break to win all four of their previous matches. Mertens is the first Belgian to win a doubles title at Miami.

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Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, and has been the University of Miami basketball beat writer for 20 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.

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