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.