By Randy Walker
It was SRO – Standing Room Only – at the Miami Open Monday when an electric atmosphere enveloped the tiny island paradise of Key Biscayne when tennis titans Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro clashed in the third round.
Federer said in his post-match press conference after his 6-3, 6-4 win that “it was something different.” That is saying something for a guy how has played his fair share of tennis matches in his career – 1,341 now to be exact in his ATP World Tour career.
Many long-time observers of the Miami Open – back when it used to be called The Lipton Championships, the Ericsson Open and the Sony Ericsson Open – could not remember a more packed, more anticipated, more electric third round day match in the 30 years the event has been played in Key Biscayne. Some said the environment had the feel of a final, perhaps even bigger. It was the attractive combination of Federer, the all-time legendary figure in the sport, creating an even greater buzz in the sport than by his lofty standards with his remarkable 18th major win in Australia coupled with his win in Indian Wells last week, against del Potro, the popular and towering Argentinean who attracted thousands of his countrymen to the Tennis Center at Crandon Park complex, dressed in national soccer jerseys, waving flags and chanting for their sporting legend.
“Shortly before I walked out to the court, you could send the atmosphere,” Federer said. “That’s when I told myself, Just be prepared for something different.”
Federer may be playing the best tennis of his career, which is shocking considering he was off the circuit for the last six months of 2016 recuperating from knee surgery. His only loss this year since his comeback was a fluky 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) loss to No. 116-ranked Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai, despite holding two match points and leading 5-2 in the final-set tiebreaker.
The rapidity that Federer has resurrected his career has added considerably to the current aura that the seven-times Wimbledon champion now exudes.
Many fans, at first, were disappointed that the Federer-Del Potro match was not a night match, to allow more working people to either attend in person or watch on television. However, the magnificent South Florida sunshine was able to showcase the full ambiance, Swiss fans with the red and white Swiss flags mixed with more numerous fans sporting the Argentinean light blue and white, waving flags, singing songs, mixed with the regular beautiful, exotic and glamorous that are regulars at the Miami Open. The top section of the intimate stadium actually had ushers sectioning off areas where fans could stand and watch the action unfold below, something very seldom, if at all, seen at this event.
The tennis lasted only 1:22, Federer’s precise and powerful forehand, his newly-rediscovered top-spin backhand being too much for del Potro on this magical day.
“If the match would’ve gone three sets of tiebreakers or something even closer, it would’ve been really epic” said Federer. “Bit like this it was just really a great, nice atmosphere. A lot pleasure playing him. Nice weather. Great opponent. Great crowd. Yeah, what else do you need?”