Federer Battles Isner In Miami Final; Championship Preview

Veterans meet in ATP Masters 1000 championship match for second time

Fourth seed Roger Federer and seventh seed John Isner face off for the first time in four years in Sunday’s final at the Miami Open presented by Itau. Federer leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 5-2, but given the trajectory of their careers since their last battle at the 2015 Rolex Paris Masters, won by Isner in a third-set tie-break, they will arrive on Stadium Court with a clean slate.

Since that match, Isner has earned a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 8 (in July 2018), reached his first Grand Slam semi-final (2018 Wimbledon) and picked up his first ATP Masters 1000 title last year in Miami (d. Zverev). He’s now one match away from a successful title defence after powering into the final without dropping a set.

After undergoing knee surgery in 2016 and taking the second half of that season off to recover from it, some critics wondered whether Federer would get back to the top of the game. He’s silenced them all by winning 12 more ATP Tour titles, including three Grand Slams, three Masters 1000 titles and his 100th tour-level title earlier this month at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships (d. Tsitsipas). After surviving an opening-round scare in Miami against Radu Albot of Moldova, he’s dropped an average of six games in his past five matches.

There will be no secrets when Federer and Isner meet. It’s one of the best serves of all time against one of the best returns of all time. Almost all of their matches have been highly competitive affairs and Sunday's clash should be no exception.

“He's definitely got one of the serves that you basically can’t read. It's that simple,” said Federer. “You just hope that the stars align, that you pick the right side, he picks the wrong side, maybe he misses a serve, that you can put him in uncomfortable situations time and time again, and at the end somehow find a way.”

Familiarity with the moment could play a factor. Federer is playing in his 50th Masters 1000 final (27-22), while Isner is competing in his fifth (1-3). It will be important for Federer to get off to a hot start as he’s done in his past two matches against Kevin Anderson and Denis Shapovalov. If he can grab an early break, Federer will establish that that he can run away with the momentum.

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Isner has been the tie-break king in Miami, winning nine of his 10 sets this fortnight with a 7-6 scoreline. His tie-break record against Federer is impressive, but less dominant at 4-4. Isner will need to take care of his service games and continue to keep the scoreline close. The deeper a set goes, the more the odds will favour him.

The American downplayed his chances at defending his crown at the start of the tournament, but his low-key approach didn’t reflect his unwavering confidence that he could. While some fans may be surprised to see him produce another inspired run, Isner is not and believes he has the tools to leave Miami with back-to-back titles.

“I believe personally that I can win any tournament I enter because of how disruptive I can be and because of how well I can serve at times,” said Isner. “I'm not surprised that I'm sitting here back in the final again.”

Saturday's doubles final will see third seeds Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan pursue a sixth doubles title in Miami. The Americans take on Dutchman Wesley Koolhof and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. Koolhof is playing in his first Masters 1000 final and Tsitsipas is competing in his first ATP Tour doubles final.

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ORDER OF PLAY - SATURDAY, 30 MARCH 2019

STADIUM start 1:00 pm
WTA match

Not Before 3:00 pm
[3] Bob Bryan (USA) / Mike Bryan (USA) vs Wesley Koolhof (NED) / Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)

ORDER OF PLAY - SUNDAY, 31 MARCH 2019

STADIUM start 1:00 pm
[7] John Isner (USA) vs [4] Roger Federer (USA)