Greatness 101: Federer Wins Miami Open for 101st Title


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Greatness in sport is a hard thing to define. It can be based on titles or accomplishments, but those are all relative to the era in which they were achieved. It can be based on popularity, but just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s great. Or it can be based on an eye test — just by watching, it is so blatantly obvious that what one is watching is simply incredible.

Roger Federer has all the accomplishments — 20 Grand Slam championships, 28 Masters 1000 titles, 310 weeks at World No. 1, just to name a few. He is the most popular player in tennis, with attendance figures and ratings spiking when he is on court. But there are other high-achieving, highly popular players in the sport.

What sets the 37-year-old apart can be seen in every flicking one-handed backhand, running and leaping forehand winner, and expertly-timed and beautifully-struck slice. Watching him, the eyes see unparalleled excellence in a sport he has come to define.

That excellence was on full display in Federer’s dismantling of defending champion John Isner, 6-1, 6-4, to claim the men’s singles title for the fourth time at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. It was in Miami, interestingly enough, that the champion’s journey to greatness began on a big stage.

“It’s been a super-long journey for me here,” Federer said on court after his dominant win. “I got my first wild card here in ‘99, made my first final here in 2002 against Andre Agassi, and won the junior world championships here in ‘98… so to stand here right now really means a lot.”

The journey came full-circle for the kid from Basel, Switzerland, who was playing in his fifth Miami Open final and record 50th at the Masters 1000 level.

The match was a rocky start for Isner, whose game is built upon his consistent and often impenetrable serve. However, in his opening service game, the American double faulted and struggled to land his first serve. Federer would get three break chances in that game alone, and although Isner saved the first two, the former World No. 1 would convert for the early lead.

Coming into the match, Federer had laid out a game plan of getting Isner on the move. By being patient and allowing rallies to play out, he would tire his opponent. The Swiss maestro did just that, working Isner line to line and winning almost every single rally.

Federer would get his second break to go up 4-1, once again getting Isner into rallies where the big man could not keep up with Federer’s incredible shot selection and placement. In the sixth game of the set, Federer was essentially toying with Isner, using the slice to bring him forward repeatedly and then blasting a winner by him.

Federer claimed the opening frame, 6-1, in a brisk 24 minutes — the first set Isner had given up during the fortnight.

The second set featured each holding until 4-3, with Isner due up to serve next. During the changeover, Isner called for a medical timeout to address pain he was experiencing in his foot. From there, it was Federer’s match to lose.

“I’m sorry for your foot,” Federer told Isner after the match. “I’m positive for you it will be all good and you will recover well and play a great rest of the season.”

The No. 7 seed managed to hold in his next service game, but he walked gingerly on his left foot through each of the points and hobbled out to serve down 4-5. Despite the crowd cheering him on, he limped to each ball he had to play and quickly found himself double championship point down. Isner managed to save one, but when his next shot went long, Federer threw his hands in the air and celebrated as the packed Stadium Court crowd erupted.

The fans in that crowd and watching from home were witnesses to what so many tennis fans around the world have become accustomed to seeing from Roger Federer — unrivaled greatness on the tennis court.

Perhaps the man whom he had just defeated captured the tennis world’s awe best after falling victim to the greatest to ever play the game.

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

> Men's Singles Final Photo Gallery

Mertens and Sabalenka Cap Off Sunshine Double With Miami Open Doubles Title


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka have won the women’s doubles championship at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. They defeated Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai, 7-6(5), 6-2, to win their first Miami Open title.

Mertens and Sabalenka, fresh off their victory in Indian Wells, came into the tournament aiming for the Sunshine Double. They advanced to the final in nearly-flawless fashion, only dropping one set and knocking off No. 5 seed Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan in the quarters and Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty — the women’s singles champion — in the semis.

Their opponents were fresh off a big title as well, as Sam Stosur and Zhang Shuai won the doubles title at the 2019 Australian Open. Their route to the final was more challenging, with each of their four matches before being decided by a third-set tiebreak.

Mertens and Sabalenka claimed the tightly-contested first set that was 52 minutes long — compare that to the men’s final that took just over an hour. Both teams featured solid serves in the opening frame, with each getting only one break. The Belgian/Belarusian pair of Mertens and Sabalenka would take it 7-5 in the tiebreak.

The second set followed a similarly trajectory, with Mertens and Sabalenka getting the early break to go up 3-1 before Stosur and Zhang broke back. Mertens and Sabalenka would regain the lead by breaking at love to lead 4-2. The duo would not look back as they would claim the set 6-2 and thereby title when Zhang double faulted to end the match.

Sabalenka’s raw power at the baseline was a perfect compliment for Mertens’ deftness at the net, propelling them to their second title as a team. It was the perfect recipe to upset the Aussie Open-winning duo of Stosur and Zhang.

The win is Mertens’ eighth career doubles title and just Sabalenka’s second.

> Women's Doubles Final Photo Gallery

Federer vs. Isner Preview: Defending Champ Tries to Fend Off the Greatest


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — John Isner did not think he would be here again. He figured that with one Masters 1000 title in a career spanning over 10 years that it probably wouldn’t happen for a second time so soon after the first — let alone at the same tournament.

“Chances are I’m not going to defend it,” Isner said of his expectations in the run-up to the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. “I have only won one [Masters 1000 title] in my whole career and I have probably played a hundred of them… you just crunch those numbers.”

On Sunday, Isner will attempt to defy the odds by playing in his second consecutive Miami Open final. In 2018, he made a miraculous run in Miami to the biggest win of his career that led to a year of personal bests for the 33-year-old.

“I believe personally that every tournament I enter I can win,” Isner clarified. “So I’m not surprised that I’m sitting here back in the finals again, but I was just going on pure math.”

“But now I’m only one match away so hopefully I can eat those words. I have been doing it so far.”

Indeed, the big man has been playing spectacularly over the fortnight — he has not dropped a set in five matches played thus far and has fired off 98 aces. The American No. 1 has thrived in high-pressure situations, winning 9 of 10 sets played in tiebreaks. That reverses his dismal tiebreak record of 7-10 coming into Miami.

Isner reached the final by way of wins over qualifier Lorenzo Sonego, Albert Ramos Viñolas, No. 19 seed Kyle Edmund, No. 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, and a surprise semifinal opponent in 18-year-old qualifier Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Isner will undoubtedly have to elevate his game considering that, while he is surprised to have reached another Masters 1000 final so quickly, his opponent has been in more of them than anyone in history.

Roger Federer will be across the net from Isner Sunday afternoon playing in his record 50th Masters 1000 final and fifth at the Miami Open. A champion in Miami three times, Federer is relishing the prospect of playing the power-serving Isner.

“I enjoy the challenge,” the former World No. 1 said after his semifinal win. “What I like about it is just to see the sheer power and accuracy that big guys have on their serve, you know.”

The 20-time major champion will be staring down Isner’s serve that can reach speeds of 140+ miles per hour. But Federer holds a 6-2 record in head-to-head matches over Isner, their most recent bout coming at the Laver Cup, where Federer prevailed in a third set tiebreak.

“Number one, you want to connect,” Federer said of his game plan against the big serves of Isner. “Secondly, you want to get in a neutral position, which is difficult because you know he’s looking for his forehand… to take charge of the point.”

The forehand of Isner — often called a “fearhand” — is just as dangerous as his serve. The key will be to get the just under 6-foot-11 player on the run, as his movement from line to line is one of the few weaknesses in his game.

“Maybe take his legs out,” Federer explained. “Because what happens sometimes on your own service games is you don't go so big right away, because you have a bit of time to maybe outmaneuver him, as well, so all of a sudden you extend the rallies on your own service games.”

Extending and winning rallies has been an advantage Federer has used to reach this record-breaking final. While he was tested in his opening round match by qualifier Radu Albot, who stole a set from the No. 4 seed, Federer has cruised since then. He did not drop a set the rest of the way, beating Filip Krajinovic, No. 13 seed Daniil Medvedev, No. 6 seed Kevin Anderson, and No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov in straights.

Despite the odds being against him repeating as champion, Isner is excited for the matchup with Federer.

“Certainly playing Roger [will] be a very big moment,” Isner told the media. “Any time you play against him… in a big stage, a tournament like this, [is] amazing.”

Bryan Brothers Defend Their Title with Sixth Miami Open Crown


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Bob and Mike Bryan like to do things in pairs. They were born as a pair on April 29, 1978, they have played tennis as a pair for over 30 years, they have a pair of Career Grand Slams — having won each major at least twice, and now they have another pair of back-to-back titles after winning the men’s doubles championship at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú.

The “Bryan Bros” as they have become known on tour picked up Miami Open titles in 2007 2008 and 2014 2015. So when 2018 came around and they won a fifth title, history suggested that they would be right back in the winner’s circle the next year. History did not account for the journey between then and now, however, and what a journey it has been.

Bob and Mike won their first tennis match together when they were six, and last May they clinched a spot in the final of the Madrid Masters by way of a straight sets win in the semis. That win, with all that is known now, could have been their last. The Bryans retired during the final the next day — the first time they had ever done that — due to Bob’s hip injury.

That injury would lead to a hip replacement for the 40-year-old lefty Bob. To say that a repeat title run in Miami was in doubt is understating the severity of his injury — playing on tour ever again in and of itself was in doubt.

The road to recovery was not smooth for Bob, who went through rehab while Mike picked up two more Grand Slams at Wimbledon and the US Open with new partner Jack Sock.

“This is a dream,” Bob explained following the win. “This was not possible eight months ago, so I’m stoked. I want to thank Mike for taking me back, he had a hell of a year without me.”

But there was never any doubt that if Bob could play, he would be playing right beside the brother he began playing with as a kid. When he was ready to return in December of last year, the pair began training, hoping for a return to the pinnacle of the sport where they had spent so much time.

“I was very happy just to play again,” Bob said of the journey back to tennis. “It felt like a huge goal just to get back on the court… I’m happy to come in here and win this title, this is really huge for us.”

On Saturday, they reached the pinnacle once again. With a 7-5, 7-6(8) win over Wesley Koolhof and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Bryan Brothers lifted their sixth Miami Open title and righted a wrong by finishing out the trifecta of back-to-back wins.

“It feels good,” Mike said, his voice breaking at times. “Bob’s been on the couch for nine months and to have him back here at full strength and winning here in Miami, our hometown, and having all the fans and the family support, it’s unreal. This is a special event for us, to defend it with real hips and now a metal hip is amazing, its awesome.”

They have now won titles in Miami in 2007 2008, 2014 2015, and 2018 2019. Three for each brother, how perfect.

This one undoubtedly belongs to Bob, who battled his way back to deliver another exceptional performance for onlookers at the Miami Open.

When they won in 2018, the 39-year-olds remarked about a return in 2019, as if anyone would expect anything different than for the brother to be competing for a championship. But life with its many twists and turns can cast doubt on even the sure-fire things.

While accepting their trophy last year, the Bryan Brothers coyly said it was “possible” they would return in 2019.

Andrey Rublev, one of the finalists from last year who the Bryans had just beaten, stood behind them and shouted, “The next 10 years!” It bears repeating what comes to mind when thinking of that prospect.

Tennis fans could only be so lucky.

> Men's Doubles Final Photo Gallery

Pliskova and Barty Set to Duel in Miami Open Final


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — 27-year-old Karolina Pliskova has been around the world playing professional tennis now for 10 years, and has attained some of its highest honors — becoming World No. 1 in July of 2017 and reaching the final of the 2016 US Open — and collected 12 singles titles in the process. She is widely regarded as one of the best players on tour — perhaps one of he best players ever that has never won a Grand Slam.

Compare that career with Ashleigh Barty, who at 22 turned professional only a year after Pliskova. Barty has only three singles titles to her name, and only just cracked the top 10 with her incredible performance in Miami this week. She recorded her best performance at a Grand Slam with her run to the quarterfinals of her home slam at the Australian Open in January of this year.

But the two will face off on Saturday sharing something in common — the 2019 Miami Open women’s singles championship would be the biggest of their careers.

Though Pliskova won in Cincinnati — a Premier 5 event — in 2016 and Barty took home the WTA Elite Trophy — an end-of-year tournament for players ranked from 9th to 19th — in 2018, neither player has a Premier Mandatory title under her belt.

Their career trajectories and accomplishments thus far are not the only contrasts between Pliskova and Barty. The former stands at 6’1” while the latter is only 5’5” — “5-foot-5 and a half,” technically.

Pliskova plays a game consisting of powerful serves and groundstrokes mixed with exceptional movement for a player her size, allowing her to grind out points when necessary.

“I'm doing fitness, I'm doing all these kind of movements,” Pliskova said about working on adding movement to her repertoire. “So it got improved. I have been running a lot this week with all those girls and a lot of dropshots I made. So I think I'm ready for some running, for some defense, as well.

On the flip side, Barty is one of the best movers in the game and consistently grinds out points, but can unleash forceful shots when called upon. Pliskova understands and accepts how Barty plays though, and feels ready to counter it.

“It's going to be not only about me this time, which actually now a lot of matches were about me more. So I need to accept when she's playing well, and I know I can beat her.”

Barty, for one, is not focused on her opponent’s game as much as she is her own.

“Karolina, we have had a few really good matches in the past,” the Australian said after her semifinal win. “I think it's split pretty evenly, actually. Played her most recently in the US Open in another big match… I think either way I get to go out there and try and play my brand of tennis, which is probably the most important thing for the matchup.”

Fortunately enough, both have seen similar players during their respective runs at the 2019 Miami Open. Pliskova overpowered a grinder with power in Simona Halep in the semifinals while Barty finally overcame Petra Kvitova — who is heralded for her size, power, and movement — in the quarterfinals.

Pliskova and Barty will go shot-for-shot and point-for-point to determine who will get to lift the Butch Buchholz Trophy. It will be a career-defining win for either who prevails — expect both to throw everything they have on Saturday in the women’s singles final of the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú.

Bob and Mike Bryan Go For Sixth Miami Open Title in Comeback Journey


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Competing in the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú seemed like a stretch for the Bryan Brothers just a few months ago. Surgery and a 12-week layoff had complicated their successful start to 2018 that included their fifth title at the Miami Open, and thrown into jeopardy the future of the most successful men’s doubles team in tennis history.

At the 2018 Madrid Masters, competing for what would have been their record 39th Masters 1000 doubles title, Bob and Mike Bryan did something they had never done before in their career as a team — dating all the way back to their professional debut in 1998. In those 20 years of competing at Grand Slams all the way down through Challenger tournaments, the pair had never retired during a match.

Bob, who had been playing through pain in his hip, finally could not bear it anymore as an awkward landing intensified the pain. This wasn’t just a tweaked muscle or a pinched nerve; this was something more serious.

That would be the last match Bob would play for the remainder of the year. He would undergo hip replacement surgery in August just before the US Open — an operation no player in the world had ever had and then successfully returned to the tour.

In his absence, Mike partnered with several other players, including winning Wimbledon, the US Open, and the ATP Tour Finals with fellow American Jack Sock. But all along — and even after such a successful swing with a new teammate — the goal was to have Bob back by his side.

“I would’ve loved for him to have hoisted the trophy with me,” Mike said after winning Wimbledon in July. “[But], he was very supportive from home; and, I dedicated the victory to him. He was sharing in the whole process. I’m just looking forward to having him back”.

The duo — with 16 Grand Slams and 117 titles in total together — is the most accomplished pairing in the sport. And having been side by side since birth, it was only right for Bob to join Mike as soon as he was ready.

The journey was not easy for Bob, going through months and months of rehab. His game will take some time to get back to where it used to be — if it ever does. But as Bob tries to reach that level again, he admits he underwent the procedure knowing he might never play another point of tennis.

“Who knows if this joint would hold up,” Bob said of playing after the replacement. “[But] I feel great, quality of life is great, practices are going well. Maybe I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m only five months [removed from surgery]. The doctors said this is more of a seven or eight months until you feel perfect.”

They played their first tournament in Brisbane in January, reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open a couple weeks later, and won their first title since coming back in Delray Beach in February. The surprising results inspired the twins to believe that they could return to the highest levels of the game.

Now, at the 2019 Miami Open, they have a chance at added to their unprecedented haul. Standing in their way is a far less experienced team of Wesley Koolhof and Stefanos Tsitsipas — the latter of whom is quite literally half the age of Bob and Mike. Regardless of the result, seeing the brothers back at the top of the game is a lot like watching the brothers trademark chest bump after they win — it’s just how it should be, and it feels very weird without it.

At 40, and just one match away from their sixth Miami Open title and yet another chest bump, the Bryan Brothers are relishing in the opportunity for a second chance at greatness — as if anyone needed a reminder.

It’s Barty Time: Australian Wins Miami Open Title


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Ashleigh Barty was raised in a small, quaint suburb in Queensland, Australia. Today, halfway around the world, that small-town Aussie girl has won the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú.

It has been a long journey to this moment for the 22-year-old, who has been playing tennis at the professional level since she was 14. She has had a complicated relationship with the sport in the past, including stepping away from it for two years from 2014 to 2016. The life of a pro tennis player had caused her to burn out — she was traveling for 338 days out of the year in 2013.

“I needed to take a break,” Barty explained to the media after the biggest win of her career. “Otherwise I don’t think that I’d still be playing the game, to be honest, it gave me an opportunity to go and relax and see what it was like to kind of have a normal life.”

When she decided to return, however, she rediscovered the passion for tennis that had driven her to compete from such a early age. It wouldn’t be easy — nothing worth doing ever is — but the youngest of three daughters to Josie and Robert was determined to live out her dream of playing tennis.

“I certainly feel like I’m a very different person,” Barty said of herself after her break from tennis. “I feel like I’m a more complete player, I’m a better player, and I’ve been able to put myself into more high-pressure situations and into bigger matches.”

Her dream reached its peak in the biggest match of her career on an overcast Saturday afternoon when she took to Stadium Court to play in the final of the 2019 Miami Open. She was on the biggest stage she had ever commanded, and my how she commanded it — defeating Karolina Pliskova for the title 7-6(1), 6-3.

Pliskova was the favorite going into the match, with her 21 wins on the year the most on tour coming into the Miami Open. Barty wasn’t too far behind, however, with 17 — and had already clinched her rise into the top 10 with her semifinal victory.

“There are zero expectations,” explained Barty after being asked if she had expected to win. “I think all is it is an opportunity for me to continue to try and get better every day and to enjoy the journey that we’re on.”

To start the match, it seemed as if the 6’1” Czech’s power was going to be too much for Barty, as she broke early on to go up 2-1. Pliskova consolidating that break put Barty in a 1-3 hole, but that is when the switch flicked on for the Australian. She loosened up and began dictating points with her patented “Ash Barty” style of play.

She began absorbing and redirecting the punishing forehands of Pliskova, scoring her own winners and knocking the former World No. 1 off her game. Barty broke back to level at 3-3 and the two players held from there to force a tiebreak. The 12th seeded Barty ran away with the tiebreak, winning it decisively 7-1 to take the opening frame — halfway to the biggest title of her career.

Going into the match, a great deal was said about how Barty would handle the unrelenting serve of Pliskova. After all, the 2016 US Open finalist had tallied 146 aces in the season coming into Miami. In the end, however, it was Barty who had the superior serve, striking 15 aces to Pliskova’s six.

“It’s always been an important part of my game to allow myself to get in control of points early on,” said the new World No. 9 said of her serve.

Barty was in a state of cruise control with her serve in the next set. In the second, she landed an incredible 89 percent of her first serves and won 14 out of 16 of those points. She was steamrolling her more experienced opponent, frustrating a fatigued Pliskova, whose error count was ratcheting up.

“I was tired, super tired,” Pliskova explained when asked what went wrong in the match. “I think she played well, so it’s completely that I played bad, but on the other hand for sure I could have played better [if i had not been tired].”

Barty would get three match points as a visibly exhausted Pliskova fell down 0-40. She would only need one and — with a shot from Pliskova going long — Barty hunched over in excitement, letting out a scream that represented the exhaustion and jubilation and pain and relief that had accompanied her to the moment.

“It’s just been an amazing fortnight, it really has,” a beaming Barty explained. “If [my team] keeps putting ourselves in these positions and keep giving myself the opportunity to continue to grow as a person and as a player — I think that’s the most exciting thing.”

Ash Barty has been on a long tennis journey for someone her age, and like every journey, it has had its ups and downs. But in between these moments, are the ones that define her as a person and not just a player — a humble young woman over 9000 miles from home just simply enjoying the ride.

“That’s why I love the sport. You have these amazing moments and you have these heartbreaking moments, but the journey in the middle is pretty bloody good.”

> Women's Singles Final Photo Gallery

Isner Ends Run of Auger-Aliassime to Get Back to Miami Open Final


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — John Isner’s incredible run to the 2018 Miami Open men’s singles title was a memorable moment in a 10-month span of career and life-changing events. He got married in December 2017 and his wife gave birth to their first child in September of the next year . Sandwiched in between, was a run to the Wimbledon semifinals and a win in Miami to give him a career-best title.

Given the Miami Open championship in 2018 was his only Masters 1000 title, he openly mused about how unlikely it would be for him to repeat that same success.

“Chances are I'm not going to defend it,” Isner said. “I have only won one [Masters 1000 title] in my whole career, and I have probably played a hundred of them… so hopefully I can eat those words. I have been doing it so far.”

Well, John Isner is headed back to the Miami Open final. Through five matches at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú, the American No. 1 has yet to drop a set — including in his semifinal win 7-6(3), 7-6(4) over qualifier Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime, an 18-year-old qualifier from Quebec, was up a break on the defending champion and serving for the first set. That’s right — up a break on John Isner, the same man whose first serves regularly reach speeds of 130 to 140 miles per hour.

Unfortunately for Auger-Aliassime, the moment seemed to get the better of him. Serving at 5-4, the young Canadian, who had yet to face a break point in the match, double faulted three times and found himself staring down 15-40 and two break chances for Isner, which the big man converted.

“Maybe he was a little bit fatigued,” Isner answered when asked if he thought experience played a factor in Auger-Aliassime failing to serve the set out. “Which is not an experience thing, because he came through qualifying. So prior to this match he had played three more matches than I have. So could have been a little bit of inexperience and maybe a little bit of fatigue, also.”

And then it happened again. Auger-Aliassime was serving for the second set — once more up a rare break on Isner — but his bid to send the match to a decider was thwarted as Isner broke back in an almost identical turn of events as the first.

The moment, seemingly too big for Auger-Aliassime, was just right for Isner as he advances to his second consecutive Miami Open final. His win last year, the biggest by far of his career, came after a lot of heartbreak in Masters 1000 finals. He had finished runner-up three times, losing to Roger Federer in Indian Wells in 2012, Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati in 2013, and Andy Murray at the Paris Masters in 2016.

2018 turned out to be Isner’s year as he captured the Butch Buchholz Trophy in a thrilling three-set comeback win over Alexander Zverev. Now he appears poised to do it again, as he has found his comfort zone underneath the South Florida sun — and an ability to block out the pressure that might’ve consumed him earlier in his career.

“I think someone told me if I lost my first match here, I'd be 12 in the world. Like, big deal,” Isner quipped to laughs in his press conference. That's really good… I mean, if this was eight years ago, I might have felt that pressure. But now, I don't ever think about [it].”

Isner will play the winner of Friday night’s semifinal matchup between No. 4 seed Roger Federer and No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov. While Isner and Shapovalov have never played on tour, Federer owns a 6-2 advantage in head-to-head matches with the American.

Either way, Isner will get a chance to lift the Butch Buchholz Trophy once again. He knows the odds aren’t in his favor, but he also knows that life for him is more than wins and losses now.

“If things don't go well, I'm on the next flight home and I get to be with my family. That's a very, very good consolation prize.”

Federer Headed to Miami Open Final After Fending Off Shapovalov


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — Friday night lights over the years has become a term synonymous with high school football games — a metonym for the intense and raucous environments at these games.

At the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú, the lights on Friday night were turned on for a very different type of sporting event, but one that had all the same passion and spirited play. Under these lights, seasoned greatness was tested by youthful promise.

In a match where the scoreline does not befit the action therein, No. 4 seed Roger Federer fended off one of the many young faces in tennis seen as his potential successor — No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov. Succession will have to come another day though, as the former World No. 1 booked a spot in the Miami Open final for the fifth time by prevailing over the 19-year-old, 6-2, 6-4.

The match began with a visibly tight Shapovalov serving a game that took 11 minutes and consisted of 19 points as Federer tried to get to the Canadian early. Though Shapovalov would hold the lengthy game, Federer would get several more break chances in the opening frame.

After Federer held for 1-1, he jumped on Shapovalov’s serve early to put the Toronto native three break points down and eventually pick up the early break for a 2-1 lead. The nerves were clearly too much to handle for Shapovalov as in his next service game, down 15-40, he double faulted to give Federer the double break. The 37-year-old would carry his next service game to build a commanding 5-1 lead in the set.

The 20-time major champion appeared set to coast through the semifinal when he had two set points during the next service game for Shapovalov. However, appearing loose and relaxed for the first time, the first-time Miami Open semifinalist upped his play to survive for the time being, rocketing three serves that the master returner across from him could do nothing with.

With the energy from staving off two set points, Shapovalov used the changeover to amp himself up, bounding out of his chair to the elicitation of cheers from the crowd that was hungry for a fight more so than a one-sided affair. Although Federer would hold to take the first set, Shapovalov had found a rhythm and a new confidence in his shot-making abilities to push the all-time great.

Now engaged in thrilling rallies that kept both running and working for each point, the scintillating tennis had the crowd gasping in awe and jubilant at the end of exciting points. At 1-1, the 100-time ATP titlist once again broke his opponent when Shapovalov’s forehand buried into the net.

The packed Stadium Court crowd, as entertained and engaged as they have been all tournament, watched a veteran duel with a future star, instead of just clobber him. A baseline rally at 2-4 exemplified the entire match, with Shapovalov throwing the kitchen sink at Federer with well-placed and timed shots. Each one, however, was retrieved by the three-time Miami Open champ, and he wore Shapovalov down.

Holding the rest of the way to 5-4, Federer was drawn into net on the first of his two match points, sealing the victory with a soft volley into the open court that was vacated by Shapovalov when he went to run down Federer’s slicing serve out wide.

The final on Sunday will be Federer’s record 50th at a Masters 1000 event, and he will take on No. 7 seed and defending champion John Isner. While that match will take place under the South Florida sun, there was as always something unique about the Friday night semifinal clash.

Maybe it was the buzzing crowd, enjoying their first taste of the weekend after a long week. Maybe it was the players, one fighting tooth and nail to take the other’s crown. Or maybe it was the lights, illuminating a stage for two artists to perform in front of fans seething for both inspiring and inspired tennis.

Roger Federer knows these lights too well, and once again emerged to bask in their adoring glow.

While his opponent Friday night is clearly on the precipice of greatness, on Sunday it will be Federer playing in the final, as arguably the greatest to ever play the game seeks to add yet another trophy to his mantle.

Pliskova Roars Past Halep to Reach Miami Open Final


By Tucker Verdi

Miami Gardens, FL — No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova is on her way to her first Miami Open final at the 2019 Miami Open presented by Itaú. In the early morning hours of Friday, she capped off a comeback win against No. 2 seed Simona Halep, 7-5, 6-1.

Down a break in the first set at 3-5 after returning from the first rain delay that beset the day at Hard Rock Stadium, the Czech heavy-hitter fired off 23 winners en route to taking ten of the next eleven games. Pliskova knew her path to victory relied on her powerful ball-striking abilities and fearsome serve.

“I need to serve well,” the 27-year-old said after the match, “but in every match I need to serve well. I think I have the better serve… It's gonna be about, you know, small chances, but I still have to go for it. I have to serve well, play aggressive, and there's gonna be chance.”

Serve well she did, landing 71 percent of her first serves and winning 27 out of 36 of those points, compared to Halep who only won 47 percent of her points on first serves.

Halep faltered with several chances to either consolidate a lead or stay level, most egregiously up 5-4 and just a hold away from going up a set-to-love, and then down 5-6 with a chance to force a tiebreak for the opening set. She was broken both times, including squandering two game points serving for the tiebreak.

“I played a close game,” Pliskova said of the last game in the first, “And I just believed. Because I had actually a lot of chances on her serve. I don't think she was serving that good. I was putting a lot of pressure on her second serve.”

In the second, Pliskova routed Halep and raced out to a commanding 5-0 lead. Her run of nine straight games won was ended there, however, first by the second rain delay of the match and then by the first easy hold for Halep of the night to make it 5-1. That hold was symbolic more than anything, as Pliskova served the match out for her first berth in the final of the Miami Open and a Premier Mandatory event.

It has been an incredible start to the year for the 2016 US Open finalist and former World No. 1, as she picked up a title in Brisbane, reached the semis in Melbourne, and hasn’t gone out before the quarterfinals at any event she has entered.

Up next for Pliskova is No. 12 seed Ashleigh Barty, with the two splitting their four head-to-head matches — the most recent a 6-4, 6-4 win by Pliskova in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open. If she can claim the title Saturday, it will be the biggest of her career and she will vault up to No. 2 in the world. But she knows Barty is not going to be an easy out.

“I think she has a completely different style than these girls which I played,” Pliskova said, referencing Barty’s finesse/power combination. “So she's also trying to go for some winners. She has a slice backhand, she has a good serve, so she can move pretty well on the court, so she understands the game well… So I need to accept when she's playing well, and I know I can beat her. I played great in New York against her, so I try to repeat it.”