In the latest headline-grabbing act of a majestic season, Roger Federer outplayed his old nemesis Rafael Nadal to lift the Miami Open title, and then shocked the tennis world with the news that he will be taking an eight-week break from the tour.
“Wimbledon has to be the biggest goal now,” said Federer, who plans to play no clay-court events apart from the French Open at the end of May. His chances in Paris seem likely to be slim, even on this year’s form, given his decision to skip the build-up events.
“All the grass is important to me,” Federer added after his 6-3, 6-4 victory. “The second part of the season is the big priority. It’s more about relaxing right now, more about injury prevention. My knee was strange on the clay last year and my physio thought that was a good thing: not playing too much on the clay.
“I will have to stay in shape because I have the Match for Africa 3 on April 10 [an exhibition that is also supposed to feature Andy Murray, sore elbow allowing], so I can’t fall apart completely. After that I am looking forward to going back to the gym. I will probably stay on hard courts for the next few weeks, then I will get on the clay two weeks before the French. Hopefully I will play the French and then for me that’s when the season really starts.”
Sunday's victory means that Federer has claimed all three big hard-court titles of 2017, building on his previous triumphs at the Australian Open and in Indian Wells. But his scheduling demonstrates that further grand slam titles are more important to him than a return to the world No 1 ranking.
The flip-side is that he should be as fresh as a sea breeze when the grass-court season comes around. The way Federer is playing, everyone will be desperate to avoid him in the Wimbledon draw.
Thirteen years after their first meeting, which was staged on this very court, Federer and Nadal came into this final in an unfamiliar position. We are used to seeing Nadal walk out with a little extra strut, thanks to his dominance in the past. This time, though, he has been fretting over a three-match losing streak.
The old certainties of his Fed-busting gameplan – the top-spun crosscourt forehand, seeking out the weaknesses of Federer’s one-armed backhand – have had to be abandoned. The pattern only arose a couple of times yesterday, and it was like watching a movie played backwards, because the polarities were completely reversed. Federer’s backhand was bullying Nadal’s forehand, rather than the other way around.
So Nadal had to come up with a new blueprint yesterday, often redirecting the ball up the line to Federer’s forehand to keep his opponent moving. His best chance lay in a dogfight, but Federer knew this as well and went after the quick kill in a high percentage of rallies. By the time the first three games had been completed there had been 21 points, and nine of those had ended in a clean winner from Federer.
The staccato rhythm of play may have left us with fewer of the battling exchanges we saw in Melbourne, but there was plenty of drama in the early stages as both players were required to fend off break-points in almost every service game. Nine opportunities had come and gone, almost evenly shared, before Federer finally broke for 5-4.
“He looked good from the get-go,” Federer told Brad Gilbert in his on-court interview. “He was playing big tennis, and stepping in. It was a very intense first set, and it could have gone either way. But I played the right way, as so often this year, and stayed very committed.”
That commitment manifested in a determination to keep rushing the net, and to receiving Nadal’s second serve well inside the baseline. Federer was taking the ball so early that he did not necessarily have to hit it that hard to take Nadal’s time away. And in his own service games he benefited from a disappointing returning performance from Nadal, who won just five points off the Federer first serve in the entire match.
“On the big points today I was maybe a little bit better,” said Federer. “I was more in fight mode today, trying to stay afloat physically and emotionally, because it’s been a draining week.”
As for Nadal, he was unusually downcast in the interview room after seeing his head-to-head lead over Federer cut back to 23-14. “It was a much closer level than what the result suggests,” he said. “I don’t believe in luck but I was not very lucky in the first set on a couple of points.”
Federer 6-3, 6-4 Nadal: Roger Federer's revival continues with the Miami Open
Federer serves a double fault to put Nadal ahead but responds with a remarkable backhand drive down the line.
Nadal then comes over the top of a forehand to put Federer 30-15 up. Fine return from Nadal forces Federer into an error, but a delightful forehand winner gives his championship point.
Federer's serve rushes Nadal into an over -hit return, and that is that. The resurgence continues.
*Federer 6-3, 5-4 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal is having to work the harder to hold, and another of his service games is in the balance at 30-30.
A seriously unfortunate net cord goes against Nadal as the ball dropped dead. Nadal has to rely on his second serve, but it is a gem of a return from Federer to secure the game. Serving for the Championship now.
Federer 6-3, 4-4 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Federer mis-cues a forehand in a rare lapse to put Nadal 15-0 ahead, but he responds immediately with a forehand winner.
Nadal tries to lob him but Federer gets to it comfortably to smash his way into the lead. Does not look back, and another fast serve secures the game.
*Federer 6-3, 3-4 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal relies on his second serve again, but another strong backhand from Federer forces him into an error to level the game at 30-30.
More backhand brilliance from Federer gives him break point - winning this game would put him two service games away from the title.
Nadal responds, however. Delightful drop shot and then steps in to meet Federer's flicked return to take the game deuce. A cross-court backhand is a little too strong though, and Federer has advantage but Nadal pulls another winner from the fire.
The Spaniard shows magnificent resolve to win a testing game.
Federer 6-3, 3-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Federer rattles through another service game to love. This second set is flying by. Federer's new backhand continues to stand up to whatever Nadal throws at him.
*Federer 6-3, 2-3 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal responds with a service game to love of his own. His second serve has been really strong today but he is up against an imperious opponent.
Federer 6-3, 2-2 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
We have seen some fearsome strikes from the baseline but Federer also shows his renowned finesse to win that game in double quick time.
*Federer 6-3, 1-2 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal's second serve is holding up well, but he is relying on it a little too often. The Spaniard takes a 40-15 lead but Federer steps in to fire a cross-court backhand, that famed 'new shot' he has added, to reduce the deficit.
Nadal's serve hurries Federer and that wins him the game.
Federer 6-3, 1-1 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Federer's forehand in immaculate order once again, races into a 40-0 lead. Wins the final point off the game off his second serve. His average topspin forehand speed has been 84 mph thus far.
*Federer 6-3, 0-1 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal has tried something different by hitting towards Federer's forehand more often, but it has not yielded too many results.
The Spaniard to serve first in this second set, and lovely footwork allows him to fire a cross-court forehand winner. He needs to bring his forehand to bear more often in this set.
Closes out a very strong service game with ease.
*Federer 6-3 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Federer serving for the set now. First serve is called out, but another rocket of a forehand wins him the game's first point off his second serve.
The forehand is driving Nadal further and further back, and Federer has two set points. But does not need to use either of them. Federer's set.
*Federer 5-3 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Wonderful looping forehand lands right on the baseline from Federer to level the game at 15-15 and he follows that with another aggressive forehand - down the line this time rather than cross-court.
Nadal responds with a backhand winner down the line, this is developing into a real duel. Federer forces break point after a magnificent back hand return is followed up with another strong forehand.
Nadal's serve beats him for pace though, and that is duece. Both players have let break points slip. Ferocious forehand from Feder though gives him advanatge, Nadal straying slightly off the ideal length and is punished.
Federer drives though another backhand, and that forces an unforced error from Nadal. First break to Federer.
Here is one of many Federer fans in the crowd
Federer 4-3 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Nadal is very much in the contest now and a perfectly placed pair of winners that seems to have raised his level of self-belief.
Forces break point, but despite another wonderful forehand Federer returns the favour to save. Nadal's lob is a little too strong, and Federer takes another absorbing game.
*Federer 3-3 Nadal (*denotes next server)
No breaks thus far in this tight contest. Nadal's driven backhand from the baseline is working well, but he nets one to level the scores at 30-30.
Federer then produces a magical forehand down the line in the first moment of real genius in this match. Has break point, but Nadal's serve is just a little to quick for him.
Break point saved, Nadal steps in to meet a Federer drop shot but he got there so quickly to gain advantage. Another powerful serves secures the game.
Federer 3-2 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Federer looked set to ease his way to another service game, but a stunning backhand from Nadal forces deuce before Federer misses a forehand return to give Nadal a break point.
Fine wide serve from Federer is too much for his opponent though, and Nadal nets a slice to give Federer a hard -fought game.
*Federer 2-2 Nadal (*denotes next server)
Nadal misses a couple of first serves, and Federer takes full advantage on his second to move into a 30-0 lead against serve.
The Spaniard's backhand offers him a route back into the game however, and a pair of well struck winners restore parity. Federer wastes a break point however when he nets a return, but the Australian Open champions then gets a net call in his favour to claim advantage.
Nadal fires an ace to have us back at deuce, before missing another first serve. Matters not however, as Nadal steps in to smash his way into advantage. An ace secures the game.
Federer 2-1 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Eight winners already from Federer so far as well as three aces. Closes out his second service game without any scares at all. All three games have gone with serve.
*Federer 1-1 Nadal (*denotes next server)
This could be a long old match if the early stages are anything to go by. Lengthy rallies, but Nadal's serve looks to be holding up well enough.
Textbook forehand topspin from Federer to reduce the deficit to 30-40, but Nadal ace wraps the game up.
Federer 1-0 Nadal* (*denotes next server)
Federer to serve first in this final. Serving wide to Nadal's backhand in the early stages, but it looks in fantastic order as a clean winner puts the Spaniard 15-30 up.
Wins a point off Federer's second serve to have a break point, but Federer steps in smash his way to deuce. Mis-cues a forehand to give Nadal advantage, but the Swiss maestro steps in again to volley and save the break point. The first ace of the game gives him the advantage, and a backhand return is too quick for Nadal. Hard work that, for Federer.
Good evening and welcome to live coverage of the Miami Open men's final as Roger Federer takes on his old doe Rafa Nadal, a rivalry that has been rekindled in 2017.
Both players are out on court and warming up, so a short, sharp build-up here.
Federer v Nadal, Miami Open final preview - all you need to know
What is it?
It's the mouth-watering Miami Open final between man-of-the-moment Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.
When is it?
It's this evening, so Sunday April 2.
What time is final?
It's scheduled to get under way just after 6pm.
What TV channel is it on?
Sky Sports 3 will show live coverage of the 37th meeting between these two heavyweights. The programme starts at 6pm.
How did both men reach the final?
A repeat of the Australian Open final will have fans licking their lips, but it was Roger Federer's semi-final win over Nick Kyrgios that may end up being remembered more fondly as the Swiss came through an epic battle 7-6 (11/9), 6-7 (11/9), 7-6 (7/5).
Federer, who chalks up his 18th victory of the year with just one loss, triumphed in three hours and 15 minutes and will now fight it out with Nadal for a third title of 2017 after shock wins in Melbourne and Indian Wells - coming after six months out last season.
His semi-final win was a match that had everything. The 35-year-old was his usual clinical, unflappable self, but Kyrgios went a long way to changing his bad boy reputation and will have picked up a whole host of new fans.
From acts of sportsmanship, where the Australian conceded a point after advising Federer to challenge, to a variety of second serves ranging from 126mph to 65mph, with plenty of his trademark 'tweeners' also thrown in, Kyrgios showcased the talent which has at times been overshadowed by his behaviour on-court.
Though Federer will now benefit from a day off, he could have got the job done much sooner had he converted two match points in the second-set tie-break.
Over an hour later he found himself two points away from defeat in the deciding tie-break but two Kyrgios errors and an unreturnable serve put Federer one win away from his first Miami crown since 2006.
Ivan Ljubicic, ironically now Federer's coach, was the opponent that day, but 12 months earlier a first Miami title came with victory over Nadal and the Spaniard is again waiting for him on Sunday.
Nadal is bidding for first-time glory in Florida, having been a beaten finalist four times, and he got to the showpiece with a routine 6-1 7-5 win over unseeded Fabio Fognini.
The untroubled Spaniard never faced a break point in breezing past insipid Italian Fognini 6-1, 7-5, and can now bid to end his Miami heartache and seek revenge for that epic defeat to his great rival in Australia, while Federer also beat him on his way to Indian Wells glory last month.
What have they been saying?
Roger Federer facing Nadal:
"My biggest rival. It feels like old times."
...and on his victory over Kyrgios:
"Winning breakers is always such a thrill. I tried to really fight for it. I can't always show my fighting skills, it is great winning this way."
"Winning here would be something great, and an important title I haven't won.
Nadal on facing Federer again:
"I'm just excited to play against Roger always. He's a big challenge for me, and I think for everybody."
Er, just a little. This gallery showcases their best ever match ups.
What are the latest odds?
Roger Federer to win 8/11
Rafa Nadal to win 11/10
What's our prediction?
Federer was given a gruelling workout by Kyrgios in their semi-final which lasted over three hours.
Nadal will be slightly fresher after breezing through his semi against Fognini but Federer does have the momentum and form on his side.
Federer also heads into their latest contest with renewed confidence having beaten his great rival at the Australian Open final back in January and in the fourth round of the Indian Wells in the first part of the 'Sunshine Double'. We're backing Federer to come through in three.