The mouthwatering prospect of this rematch of the 2017 Aussie Open third round clash had the Miami Open crowd scintillating with unbridled excitement. In a notably tougher top half of the draw, this encounter had all the makings of a spectacular showdown. Well, they couldn’t unleash a better blockbuster than this war of attrition if they tried. How would Tomas Berdych fare against the tennis version of the renaissance man? Well, right out of the blocks Federer painted a clear picture as he left both Berdych and the audience gasp for air, using all the exotic colours from his ball striking palette to brush the Czech powerhouse aside: 6-2. One shot in particular could make any highlight reel: At 4-2, game point, Federer hit a feathery drop shot that fluttered across the net and buckled Berdych’s knees and his resistance in the opening set. Federer walked to his chair, while Berdych was still scratching his head.
But then, it was time for the Birdman to soar! As expected, long rallies between these two hard hitters were few and far in between. Tomas took a leaf out of Federer’s new playbook and pulled off a few faux-SABR’s of his own. Incredibly, he started unloading his rocket launcher forehand rivaling the nuclear enriched forehand of the mercurial Swiss. The errors began to mount for Federer, but Berdych was overwhelming him with the weight of his shot. In a blink of an eye Berdych had leveled the match, taking it 6-3 with a scary display of thunderous aces and backhand inside out screamers.
But the best, was still to come. Federer sensed his grip on the match was slipping early on in the third. The Swiss had conjured magic out of thin air aplenty, but the fact that the Czech was still gaining momentum seemed to have crept into his mind, causing his confidence to waver. At 3-2 in the third, it still was Federer though who made his move. Blessed with unnatural amounts of foresight, he read Berdych’s serve and swung freely with his revitalized backhand to create an inside-out winner out of nowhere. The pressure proved too much for his 31-year old opponent as cracks in his game started to appear. Federer got the break and held on to his advantage to get to 5-3. One can always count on Roger Federer to close out a match, but this time there was some strange energy in the air. Taking advantage of a double fault to lead 0-30, one more aggressive return from Berdych did the trick to set up break point! He converted on the first as Federer inexplicably missed a forehand well wide.
In the very next game, at 5-4 30-40, Federer had a look at his first matchpoint, only to have it snuffed out by a gutsy 120 mph second serve ace. Berdych was now in the ascendancy as he finished off the game reminiscent of Djokovic in his best days; redirecting a Federer cannonball with his backhand down the line while giving up absolutely no pace whatsoever. Even Federer was impressed. At this juncture, Federer, striking a figure these days of one who has enjoyed a long swim in the tennis fountain of youth, all of a sudden started to look like the older ball striker on court. Hardly anything in the Federer game could be called superior to his Czech opponent. Berdych noticed in the corner of his eye that the well Federer used to rejuvenate himself had started to come up dry. And so he went for it even more. Blistering returns and fiery groundstrokes from Berdych left Federer shrugging his shoulders out of sheer desperation. Federer felt huge amounts of pressure to deliver that much desired first serve. But he did, and he stood firm.
Crunch time finally had arrived. This match could only be decided by a tiebreak and the crowd was fiercely getting into proceedings. The first three points were all mini-breaks. Berdych kept overpowering Federer with ease from the back of the court. Trading blows up to 4-4 in the tiebreak, Federer handed Berdych what looked to be the mini-break that could take him all the way. Another backhand up the line from the Czech giant gave him two match points at 6-4. Would he be able to produce the upset against Federer in Miami like he pulled off in 2010, also saving a match point in the process? Well, not on the first one as Federer hit a return too deep for Berdych to handle. Federer then found two telling first serves, the latter an ace, to save match point and then bring up one of his own. Berdych’s serve, delivering ace after ace the entire third set, let him down when he needed it most. A horrendous double fault in the tramlines meant Federer could clench his fists once again. He had overcome adversity and then some today: 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6). Berdych will rue his chances but he can build on the strong performance he showed today against a top opponent. Federer in particular had given Berdych fits, and had not lost a set to the Czech since the two met for the 2014 Dubai title.
Federer and Miami haven’t always been kindred spirits in the past, as he lost some heartbreaks of his own at Key Biscayne. At times the Swiss enigma had opted out of the tournament simply because it didn’t fit in his schedule. However, when he did win the prestigious event, doing so back to back in 2005 and 2006, he also completed the coveted so-called Sunshine Double in conjunction with the Indian Wells crowns. Today was another stepping stone for Federer to get within reach of yet another one. It seems that this year, the sun in Miami shines brighter for Federer than it has done in over a decade. Federer got lucky today and he knows it, confirming as much in his post-match interview, and he smiled right back up to thank the heavens when he walked off the court. He may already have been letting his mind wander off, thinking about that Sunshine Double.
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