From the Miami Open’s perspective, the only disappointing thing about Roger Federer’s victory over Juan Martin del Potro yesterday was that it came so early in the week. The atmosphere on a full-to-overflowing Stadium Court resembled the nearby Ultra dance-music festival, complete with football-style chants, flags and banners. In excitement level, if not necessarily quality of tennis, this would have made a worthy final.
Instead, it turned into a third-round stroll for Federer, who was as swift and clinical as we have seen him all season as he despatched del Potro by a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline. The job was done in 82 minutes, and the player of the season to date will now face Roberto Bautista Agut in the last 16.
If Federer’s status as the world’s favourite sportsman has only been reinforced by his late-career blossoming, then del Potro is an even bigger name here, at what has been described as the South American slam. His Davis Cup captain, Daniel Orsanic, was at courtside yesterday to support the man who spearheaded Argentina’s run to the Davis Cup title last year.
But fitness issues continue to rob del Potro of his best chances against the very elite. Early in the second set, he called the trainer on to apply tape to both his wrists – the suspect joints that have required four operations between them.
Meanwhile, how much unluckier can the women’s tour get? Once Garbine Muguruza had withdrawn from the Miami Open yesterday, suffering a bout of gastric illness during her match, Angelique Kerber was left as the only player in the draw to win a major title in the last five years.
For the most part, this situation was not the result of adverse results, but of a wide range of unpredictable factors. The nastiest of them was surely the stabbing of Petra Kvitova at her home in Prostejov just before Christmas. The happiest was the arrival of a firstborn child for Victoria Azarenka. And the most controversial was Maria Sharapova’s doping ban.
Muguruza’s travails over the ten months since she won the French Open – a period in which she has failed to reach another final - are less quirky, but equally disappointing. But she seemed to be building up nicely here with a couple of hard-fought three-set wins. Yesterday, she knew she was in for another tester against Caroline Wozniacki, the only woman at the top end of the sport who has run a marathon.
As the match clock moved past the hour mark, though, it was clear that Muguruza’s energy levels were failing her. She lost the tie-break 7-1 and then simply packed her bags and left. “I started normal,” said Muguruza, “and then I think at 3-3 or something like this I started to feel headache and pain in my stomach. “Then kind of went more and more during the match. When I was getting to the 5-4, I started to feel a little bit dizzy. I think was the heat that affected me suddenly like that.”
Federer too good
Del Potro didn't do a huge amount wrong there, but his backhand is still nowhere near what it once was, and sadly it probably never will be.
When DP unleashed on the forehand side, Federer was able to soak up the power and often get on the front foot himself.
The Swiss looks such a cut above from the rest of the tour at the moment, and his projected route to the semi-final is Bautista Agut and then Berdych, so it would be a major surprise if he was not facing countryman Stan Wawrinka in the semi-final.
And while Wawrinka may be the No 1 seed at this tournament, Federer would be the red-hot favourite for that match.
Roger Federer through to last-16 in Miami with 6-3 6-4 win against Juan Martin del Potro.
Federer 15-1 this year. Has won 14 sets in a row.
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) March 27, 2017
Game, set and match! Federer defeats Del Potro 6-3, 6-4
Fed serving for the match, and he gets off to the perfect start as Delpo nets a forehand for 15-0. DP then sends a forehand long for 30-0, and an ace out wide makes it 40-0 and three match points. He only needs one, sending a forehand winner up the line to seal his place in the fourth round after 1hr 22 min.
Federer is on fire at the moment, no-one can get close to him.
Federer* 6-3, 5-4 Del Potro (*denotes next server)
DP holds to 15 and forces Fed to serve out the match despite one of the worst challenges of all time. Umpire Mohamed Lahyani was laughing at Delpo as he said he wanted to challenge the below shot.
Federer 6-3, 5-3 Del Potro* (*denotes next server) - Fed saves a break point and holds
Two uncharacteristic mistakes from Fed on the forehand side give Delpo a glimmer of a break back at 15-30, and the Argentine then earns a break point at 30-40 when Fed sends a backhand long. Fed misses the first serve and the second is right in DP's hitting zone on the forehand side, but he sends it long! What a chance that was.
And in the blink of an eye, Fed reels off the next two points with a forehand volley and an ace out wide to wrap up the hold.
Federer* 6-3, 4-3 Del Potro (*denotes next server)
You have to love it when Fed is comfortably ahead and starts swinging for the fences. He does it in this game with a spectacular backhand winner down the line, and it's driving Del Potro to distraction, leading to a wild forehand that makes it 15-30. Eventually though DP grits his teeth and grinds out the hold to keep himself just about alive in the match.
— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) March 27, 2017
Federer 6-3, 4-2 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
Fed needs to hold serve three more times to close out this victory, and the way he's playing it would be a big surprise if he failed to do that. He's serving like a dream, and DP is starting to wilt. An ace wraps up the hold to 15, and Federer is just two games away from the fourth round.
— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) March 27, 2017
Federer* 6-3, 3-2 Del Potro (*denotes next server) - Fed breaks!
Fed is sensing this could be the moment to pounce, and he swats away a forehand winner before moving up to 0-30 thanks to some brilliant depth on the backhand side. DP reduces the arrears with a big serve, but he shanks a forehand almost out of the court and it's 15-40, two break points for Fed. And he only needs one, as DP sends a backhand long. That could be curtains for the Argentine.
Federer 6-3, 2-2 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
This is the sight we hate to see with Delpo - the Argentine is getting strapping on both his wrists and he's wincing in discomfort. He's fine to carry on though, and he nails a forehand passing shot to get back to 15-15 after losing the first point of the game. Fed reels off the next two points to go up 40-15, and he holds to 30 after an uncharacteristic forehand error.
Federer* 6-3, 1-2 Del Potro (*denotes next server)
DP is starting to find his range on the forehand, smashing down winners and athletically running round backhands to allow him to unleash with it from the ad court. Fed weathers the storm however and forces deuce from 40-15 down. An ace and a double fault follow, and it's deuce again - looks like Delpo is struggling with the Florida sun streaming into his eyes. It doesn't seem to affect him on the next point though, as he rips another off-forehand that's far too hot for Fed to handle. Federer then nets a forehand return, and it's game DP.
Federer 6-3, 1-1 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
Federer's serving and movement around the court are a joy to behold. He looks so light on his feet, and he's jumping on any short balls and swatting them away for winners. Yet another forehand winner flies past DP and it's a comfortable hold to 15.
Federer* 6-3, 0-1 Del Potro (*denotes next server)
Delpo struggled on the majority of his service games in the first set, and he doesn't have it all his own way here, but eventually he holds to 30. In the middle of it, Fed hits another brilliant backhand return winner from the deuce court.
Federer 6-3 Del Potro* (*denotes next server) - Game and first set Federer
No-one serves out sets and matches better than Federer, but it's a poor start to the game as he falls behind 0-30 thanks to a couple of forehand errors. Fed takes the next point, but DP produces an absolute sledgehammer of a forehand to go up 15-40 and earn his first break points of the match. A quite brilliant second serve helps Fed save the first one, and my word he saves the second with a wonderful off-forehand up the line. He celebrates with a huge 'come on', but he sends a backhand long on the next point to hand Delpo a third break point. Again though Federer is nerveless, and he leathers another off-forehand winner up the line. But back comes DP, who earns a fourth break point with a slightly miscued forehand that outfoxes Federer. Fourth time lucky? No chance. Fed saves it with an ace down the T.
Fed then gets to set point for the first time with a knifed forehand volley, and he takes the first set with a gorgeous backhand drop shot. What a first set that was, and it goes to Federer after 38 high-quality minutes of tennis.
Federer* 5-3 Del Potro (*denotes next server) - Fed breaks!
DP serving with new balls, but it's Fed who gets the first strike of the game with a bullet smash for 0-15. And again Federer makes inroads on his opponent's serve as he takes a backhand return early and spooks Delpo into a desperate backhand into the net to make it 15-30. The Swiss then dances around a backhand to nail an off-forehand winner, and it's 15-40 once more, and another two break points. This time there's no mistake from Federer, as he flicks a forehand passing shot winner past an exposed Delpo at the net.
Federer 4-3 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
Delpo wins the opening point of a Fed service game for the first time in the match, and he's right in the game when he leathers a backhand return winner for 30-30. Typically though Federer then slams the door shut with a couple of perfectly-placed serves and holds on.
Federer* 3-3 Del Potro (*denotes next server) - DP saves two break points and holds
Great point to start the game, as DP shows excellent hands at the net, but Fed eventually comes out on top with a brilliant backhand pass down the line. The pair exchange the next two points to leave Federer with a half-chance of a break up 15-30, and that becomes two break points at 15-40 as Fed flicks another backhand passing shot up the line. Delpo again clings on though as Fed misses a backhand return and then sends a forehand long to allow the Argentine back into the game at deuce. Another missed Fed forehand and a DP backhand winner follow, and it's a hold for Del Potro.
Federer 3-2 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
My word, Fed's backhand is just sensational at the moment, and he flicks a winner up the line on that wing to go up 15-0. His serve meanwhile is as on the money as ever, and it helps him ease to another hold to 15.
15 minutes in, no breaks as of yet.
Federer* 2-2 Del Potro (*denotes next server)
Some huge serving, including two aces, take Del Potro to 40-15. And a clever body serve outfoxes Federer to wrap up a hold to 15.
DelPo with more support than Federer...
— jimmy soixante-dix (@hotdog6969) March 27, 2017
Federer 2-1 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
No messing about from Federer, as he holds comfortably to 15 when DP frames a forehand into the crowd. Exciting start to the match, and it's on hold in the first set.
— Craig O'Shannessy (@BrainGameTennis) March 27, 2017
Federer* 1-1 Del Potro (*denotes next server) - DP saves two break points and holds
Federer is taking the ball early and hitting it so cleanly to move up 0-30 with a forehand winner and a missed Delpo backhand. And on only the seventh point of the match, Federer attempts a SABR (sneak attack by Roger) on a DP second serve, but he shanks his backhand return. Delpo then produces an ace out wide to make it 30-30. But Federer hits a beautiful backhand return winner to go up 30-40 and break point. DP saves it with a ripped forehand that sails through the court and past Federer's defences. There are few finer sights in tennis than the DP forehand in full flight. Federer though is returning extremely aggressively and he earns a second break point with another pinpoint backhand return. He makes a mess of his backhand return however, and Delpo eventually holds on with some brilliant defence on the next two points. Big chants of 'Delpo' from the considerable South American contingent in the crowd great their man eking out the hold of serve.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) March 27, 2017
Federer 1-0 Del Potro* (*denotes next server)
A shanked DP forehand, a Federer forehand winner and an unreturnable serve get the Swiss to 40-0, before a missed Delpo backhand return seals a love hold for Fed.
The last seven matches between these two have gone to a final set, so we could well be in for a close one.
We're under way, with Federer to serve...
The winner of this match...
...will face Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut, who took out home favourite Sam Querrey in three sets.
Can Delpo cause an upset? Well, here's an (admittedly pretty tenuous) omen from the ATP.
— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) March 27, 2017
Delpo wins the toss, and elects to receive. Surprising call, possibly a few nerves jangling for the big Argentine.
The players are out
As expected, a rapturous reception for both players.
John McEnerney writes:
Evening Charlie, this could be a cracker with Fed bouncing around like a newborn spring lamb & DelPo showing signs of a return to form after a serious layoff. If there is one player who can mess with the Big 4 it's an on form Juan Martin. Going out on a limb & calling a 3 setter with Swiss lad taking it. Enjoy it. John
Head to head
A quick glance at the head to head shows that Federer has won 15 of the 20 meetings between the two players. The last time they played though was four years ago, so perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it.
One area where they are well matched is popularity, with Del Potro one of the few players who comes close to Federer for love from the crowd.
The players should be on court for their warm-up in about 15 minutes.
Evening all, welcome to tonight’s marquee Miami Open third round between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.
These two have met 20 times before (Federer winning 15 of those), but in their most famous meeting it was Del Potro who came out on top.
That was of course the 2009 US Open final when a 20-year-old Del Potro blew Federer away with a barrage of brutal forehand hitting. He was then subjected to the most excruciating post-match interview (mainly around 3.38 when he asks if he can thank his team in Spanish), which you can watch below.
Since then the hugely popular Del Potro has sadly been too often laid low by injury - requiring four surgeries on his troublesome wrists - and he is still some way short of his best.
The damage done to the left wrist has severely weakened his backhand, but the shot is thankfully improving this year as Del Potro edges his way back to full fitness. Still, expect to see a lot of slicing and dicing on that wing tonight.
Speaking of backhands, what on earth has happened to Federer’s? What was once a weakness has become yet another strength, and Federer eviscerated Rafael Nadal in Indian Wells last week with an exhibition of backhand shotmaking.
Federer in general has been in sensational form this year, winning the Australian Open and Indian Wells, and losing just one match in 2017.
His opening match in Miami was not a cakewalk, but he still got through in straight sets against the promising young American Frances Tiafoe.
Del Potro has had a stop-start beginning of the year due to injury, and his win-loss record is an underwhelming 6-3 going into this match. The Argentine has twice pushed Novak Djokovic hard though, and he tends to raise his game when up against the very best.
Federer is most certainly that, but we’re predicting the Swiss to come through in two tight sets. Let’s say 7-6, 7-5.
Garbine Muguruza has just retired injured from her fourth round match down 6-7 against Caroline Wozniacki, which means Federer vs Del Potro will be on shortly.
What is it?
When is it?
It's on Monday March 27 - ie tonight.
What time does it start?
This one is penciled in for around 20.00 BST.
What TV channel is it on?
Sky Sports 1 HD is the place to go this evening. Alternatively, you can follow all the action right here with Telegraph Sport's Charlie Eccleshare.
Miami Open so far
Roger Federer continued his impressive 2017 campaign with a straight-sets, second-round victory at the Miami Open in Florida on Saturday.
But it was far from a cakewalk for Federer, who came within two points of losing the first set before breaking twice in the second for a 7-6(2) 6-3 triumph over American teenager Frances Tiafoe.
Next up for Federer is Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Dutchman Robin Haase 6-2 6-4 in a night match at Crandon Park.
Federer has a 15-5 career record against del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion.
Del Potro beat Robin Haase 6-2 6-4.
What are they saying?
"I would love to play against (del Potro)," Federer said, speaking before knowing who his next opponent would be. "We've had some epic matches against each other. I'm sure the crowd would love to see it."
What are the odds?
Federer win - 4/11
Del Potro win - 9/4
What's our prediction?
Federer to win an entertaining clash in straight sets.