By Steven Wine / The Associated Press
KEY BISCAYNE, Florida—Weary from three months of winning, Roger Federer hit one last shot last Sunday, whacking a celebratory forehand into the stands to punctuate his victory over Rafael Nadal in the Miami Open final.
Now comes a well-deserved two-month break.
“I’m not 24 anymore,” Federer said. “I need a rest. My body needs healing.”
He’s not complaining. At 35, Federer is playing some of the best tennis of his career—so good he’s even dominating his longtime nemesis. Federer beat Nadal for the third time this year, 6-3, 6-4, to become the oldest men’s champion in the 33-year history of the tournament.
Federer also defeated Nadal in the Australian Open final in January, and two weeks ago en route to the Indian Wells title. He’s the first three-time champion this year on the men’s tour—and ready for a break.
The father of four has an exhibition scheduled next week, but plans to skip the bulk of the clay court season before returning for the French Open in late May.
“I want to stay healthy,” Federer said. “When I’m healthy and feeling good, I can produce tennis like this. If I’m not feeling this good, there’s no chance I’ll be in finals competing with Rafa.”
Federer said he arrived at Key Biscayne with low expectations, given his heavy workload of late, and felt tired in the final. Humid weather didn’t help.
He won anyway.
“On the big points I was just maybe a little bit better,” Federer said. “It was more of a fight mode I was in today trying to stay afloat. It has been a draining week.”
The victory turned back the clock, as Federer has done so often of late. He also won Key Biscayne in 2005 and 2006. Nadal fell to 0-5 in Key Biscayne finals, including in 2005 against Federer. He was also runner-up in 2008, 2011 and 2014.
“It’s disappointing for me that I am trying during all my career,” Nadal told the crowd with a smile during the trophy ceremony. “Every three years I am in this position, but always with the smaller trophy.”
Said Federer to his rival: “I truly believe you are going to still win this tournament. You’re too good not to.”
Both players agreed the match was closer than the score and decided by a handful of points.
“I got a few important ones,” Federer said. “I played the right way, like I have so often done this year, just very committed, and it paid off at the very end.”
Federer erased all four break points he faced, and while he failed to take advantage of five early break-point chances himself, he broke in the next to last game of both sets.
Serving for the championship at 5-4, Federer hit his only double-fault on the first point but quickly regrouped. The next point was the longest of the match, and Federer ended the 19-shot rally with a forehand winner in the corner.
When Nadal sailed a return long on the final point, Federer took the ball on a bounce behind the baseline and sent it into the stands, then waved both hands in jubilation. The sellout crowd was evenly divided in its support but roared for the popular champion.
Federer saved two match points in his quarterfinal win against Tomas Berdych, and earned a three-tiebreaker win in the semifinals against Nick Kyrgios. He didn’t face six-time champion Novak Djokovic or two-time time champion Andy Murray, who missed the tournament because of elbow injuries.
Even so, Federer’s recent run is remarkable. He has the best record on men’s tour this year at 19-1, including 7-0 against players ranked in the top 10, and has won 11 matches in a row. His best start since 2006 comes after he missed the final six months of last year with a left-knee injury.
“Amazing start to the season,” Nadal said. “One of the best comebacks ever on the tour.”
Federer’s vast repertoire was on display throughout the tournament. Against Nadal he won all six points where he played serve and volley, and won six other points at the net. He served well and held at love three times in a row. He played terrific defense, robbing Nadal’s groundstrokes of their power, and finished with 30 winners to only 17 unforced errors.
Image credits: AP