Miami Open 2017 Preview: Roger Federer sets up Del Potro contest
The absence of top ranked Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic appears to in no way have hampered the draw at the Miami Masters, with players setting up blockbuster action early on. With German Philipp Kohlschreiber bageling Rafael Nadal early on, even unseeded players have been putting on a big show.
Both the women's and men's draws promise big action, with former World No. 1s Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova taking each other on in the Round of 16 in the WTA draw, while Roger Federer is up against old foe Juan Martin Del Potro.
Who has the better chances?
On the face of it – and within, it is the Swiss former World No. 1 who is the favourite in perhaps every match he has played since his return. Federer is also an experienced campaigner at the Miami Open, with two wins of three finals here .
He is also the only player in the 2017 draw to have won the Miami Masters, making the contest even more interesting.
Federer has been in top physical shape after his 6-month break in 2016, but that is not the only weapon he has returned with. The Swiss’ backhand, never his strongest point and often attacked by his biggest rivals – Rafael Nadal among them, is this year perhaps the key firearm in Federer’s arsenal.
Just to put that in perspective – in Federer’s last match against American teen Frances Tiafoe, the Swiss hit over 50% more backhand winners than he did forehand winners, completely uncharacteristic of a man who decimated opponents with his forehands. But let it not be forgotten that Federer has been working on his backhand for years now – since 2011, in fact, before he won his 17th major.
What are some key factors here?
Perhaps Del Potro’s biggest win against Federer – at the finals of the 2009 US Open – came on the same surface as the Miami Masters – outdoor hard courts. It was a close win for the tall Argentine at 3-6, 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, with the momentum of the match teteering on the edge until the very last game.
Like Federer, Del Potro is not just strong in his physicality but also with tactical mastery – something that the Swiss has used to outfox his best opponents. Del Potro is also returning from several injuries and recovering well; the 29-year-old took two big wins over Novak Djokovic last year ,and taxed the Serb again this year on more than one occasion; soon after his return, Del Potro finished 2016 with an Olympic medal under his belt.
But let’s cycle back to that US Open win. Del Potro’s biggest, and most effective tactic in that match, was to attack Federer’s backhand – which now appears to be near-unassailable.
Injuries aside, one of Del Potro’s shortcomings was his movement on court; the Argentine primarily remained at the baseline, with Novak Djokovic among many other players to outfox him by forcing him to the net.
That tactic is a favourite of Federer’s; the Swiss has done it on repeated occasion through the Australian Open especially, and the move leaves opponents unable to effectively anticipate his next move.
Federer also has been attacking his opponents’ backhands early to win points, and it has paid major dividends. Del Potro may possess a powerful backhand in addition to his famed big, wristy forehand, but that backhand has been worn down and weakened by the many surgeries the player has had over the years, making it perhaps his Achilles’ heel.
That leaves Federer open to attacking his backhand again, and it should be a more than effective way to win big.
The numbers also appear to be in Federer’s favour, but let’s take a closer look.
What do the numbers say?
Federer and Del Potro have met each other a whopping twenty times on court, with Federer leading the rivalry at 15-5 – with 75% victory. But a closer look at more recent years shows that Federer won only two of the pair’s last five matches – both his wins in 2013, at the Paris Masters and ATP World Tour Finals.
Both those wins saw Del Potro take a set off Federer; the Swiss has never had it easy with Delpo no matter the surface.
But the same can also be said of Del Potro – his last win over Federer, at the finals of the 2013 Swiss Indoors Basel – a title Federer has won seven times, came after a first-set tiebreak and a second-set loss – not easy any way you slice it.
Federer has won six of the pair’s seven outdoor hardcourt encounters, defeated him in the pair’s two most recent matches, and has not had major surgery or injuries that have been a serious – so he definitely has the upper hand here.