After spending six months away from the ATP Tour in 2016 to recover from knee surgery, Roger Federer made a stunning return to action in 2017.
The Swiss turned back the clock in his return event at the Australian Open, beating Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal in back-to-back five-set classics to capture his first Grand Slam trophy since 2012 Wimbledon and rode the momentum into the ‘Sunshine Double’ events of Indian Wells and Miami.
After taking the title in the Californian desert, Federer arrived in Miami with a third trophy of the year in sight and the early signs were encouraging. The 18-time Grand Slam champion moved past Frances Tiafoe, Juan Martin del Potro and Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets to reach the quarter-finals and saved two match points against Tomas Berdych in a final-set tie-break to reach the last four. It left just one man standing between him and a place in the final. A man he had yet to beat.
That man was Aussie sensation Nick Kyrgios. The 21-year-old Canberra native had defeated Federer in three tie-break sets to win their maiden ATP Head2Head encounter almost two years prior at the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open. The pair were due to meet two weeks earlier in Indian Wells, until food poisoning forced Kyrgios to withdraw from their quarter-final clash. Luckily for tennis fans around the world, nothing got in the way of a rivalry-defining classic in Miami.
In a fascinating showcase of attacking tennis, Federer and Kyrgios produced the 2017 ATP Match of the Year. Federer saved set points and Kyrgios saved match points, but it was the Swiss who ultimately claimed his place in the final with a 7-6(9), 6-7(9), 7-6(5) triumph after three hours and 11 minutes.
“It did feel very good, because you don’t very often play three tie-breaks in a match. It’s nice to win those and winning tie-breaks is always such a thrill,” said Federer. “It’s great winning this way, especially because I remember the loss against him a few years ago. It was rough. It was the birthday of my boys. I wasn’t with them and had that match, so it was nice to get this one tonight.”
A standing-room only crowd came out to Crandon Park to watch two of the most exciting players on the ATP Tour do battle, and they weren’t shy about letting their feelings be known. Whether it was giving a standing ovation for a between-the-legs winner from Kyrgios or chanting Roger’s name, their enthusiasm prompted the umpire to call for quiet on multiple occasions during the match.
After failing to convert three set points, Federer trusted his backhand and held his nerve in the tie-break to save set points at 7/8 and 8/9. The Aussie’s penchant for going for broke at crucial moments of the match may have cost him the opening set. He rolled the dice on a big second serve at 9/9 and missed badly, handing Federer a third set point. The Swiss star made good on his chance, wrapping up the set as Kyrgios sent a backhand into the doubles alley.
The drama remained at maximum level in the second-set tie-break, as Federer committed errors on two match points. Kyrgios wouldn’t allow Federer another opportunity, firing an ace at 10/9 and looking to his box in celebration after forcing a decider.
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A sixth straight tie-break followed for Federer and Kyrgios, with the crowd on their feet to applaud the efforts of both players. Kyrgios didn’t learn his lesson from the first set, gambling with a 128 mph second serve at 5/5 and ultimately hitting a double fault for his most costly shot of the night. Kyrgios’ risk proved to be Federer’s reward, with the 35-year-old firing a big first serve to complete the win.
“I showed a lot of fight,” said Kyrgios. “Obviously I’m an emotional guy. I had some ups and downs, a bit of a roller coaster, but ultimately I think I put in a good performance.”
After winning back-to-back third-set tie-breaks in the same tournament for the third time in his career (2005 Dubai, 2001 Rome), Federer claimed his third ‘Sunshine Double’ with a straight sets victory against Rafael Nadal in the championship match.
Since leaving the court in Miami, Federer has triumphed in three further final-set tie-breaks against Kyrgios and now owns a 6-1 ATP Head2Head record against the Aussie. The pair’s second encounter will be remembered for many reasons, but perhaps most of all as the moment when two men cemented an exciting new ATP Tour rivalry and Federer turned it in his favour.