MIAMI, March 30, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
Friday’s men’s singles semi-finals at the Miami Open presented by Itaú featured two first-time matches that had a hefty age-difference between the contesting players.
The 33-year-old defending champion John Isner took on Canadian qualifier Felix Auger-Aliassime, a player 15 years younger than the American. Roger Federer widened this age gap further against 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who is almost 18 years younger than the Swiss veteran. While the youngsters had put on impressive performances to make it all the way to the stage of the final four – and one stop short of a Canadian derby in the final – they were made to wait for their turn to replicate their run, and do one better, by their older rivals.
In the first semi-final, Isner found himself trailing not once but three times in the match across both sets. Playing instinctually and fearlessly, the 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime broke Isner’s serve to take a lead in both sets. However, his nervousness while trying to serve out the set – once in the first set, and twice in the second set – helped Isner to get back in the match and take the win in straight sets 7-6(3), 7-6(4) in one hour and 53 minutes.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 29. März 2019
“Prior to this match, Felix had played three more matches than I have. So could have been a little bit of inexperience and maybe a little bit of fatigue, also,” Isner said.
Remarkable as this quirky comeback was from Isner, partly helped by his opponent, was that this was the American’s ninth tie-break set in the five matches he has played in the tournament. Not only has Isner yet to lose a set in Miami this year, but this also is the highest number of tie-break sets he has won in a single event, surpassing his own previous record of seven won at the 2017 Rome Masters and the 2007 Citi Open.
“I’m just finding myself pretty calm in those situations,” Isner said. “Maybe it’s a little bit mental. I’m definitely playing my best tennis when I have been in that situation this week, there is no doubt.”
Federer wins first match against Shapovalov
Sunday’s final against Federer gets quite promising, considering that the 37-year-old Swiss currently leads the stats board of winning the highest number of tie-breaks in his career, 439 to Isner, who is second with 402 wins. Against Shapovalov though, Federer did not need tie-breaks to impose his domination and he won 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 12 minutes.
🚨 FEDERER IS FINAL BOUND 🚨
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 30. März 2019
“It was different today. It’s more playing a young guy than a guy you have never played against,” Federer said. “I enjoyed it. I think I played very well. I had to. When you let Denis play, he’s got some serious power and he gets rhythm going. He can really put you in uncomfortable situations. So I think I did well, and I’m very happy how I played. I thought it was a good match and a good level of tennis.”
The win meant that Federer reached his 50th final in an ATP Masters 1000 event. Even Rafael Nadal (33 titles) and Novak Djokovic (32 titles), who hold their place atop the leader board of ATP Masters 1000 title-wins, have only managed to reach 49 and 47 finals respectively. That is some consistency from the Swiss maestro, who has won all three finals he previously reached in Miami.
Sunday has some widespread connotations for both players. For Isner, the chance to mount a successful title defence and become the 20th different titlist in the first 20 events of the 2019 ATP calendar. For Federer, to end this run and add one more to his triple-digit count of titles.