If we thought that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal duking it out for the Australian Open title was a short-lived revival of this awesome Tennis rivalry, the Masters tournaments at Indian Wells and now Miami have taught us that this “old school” clash isn’t going anywhere.
We’re into April 2017, and we already have our third Federer-Nadal match, all coming in either a Grand Slam or Masters tournament. Federer is coming as the more tested and tired combatant this time, having to go through Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios in the QF & SF, both 3-set matches. Nadal had a much easier time against Jack Sock in the quarters, followed by Fabio Fognini in the semis.
The two met less than one month ago in the round of 16 at Indian Wells, as Federer kept the momentum of his win in Melbourne with a quick, 68 minute thrashing, dropping only five games in the process. The all-time leader in Grand Slam titles is gaining some ground in his poor record against Nadal, but most of all, he’s having some sort of career renaissance, which elevates him back to the top of discussions. Not just as the best player of all-time, but as the best player right now, considering Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are both injured and not showing the most consistent of form when healthy.
Nostalgia is always something to draw fans in, even if it plays on the deluded sentiment that a long time ago things were better. More importantly, it injects some personality and flair into the sport. Federer and Nadal aren’t colorful stars like the heroes of late 70’s and early 80’s tennis, but they bring a certain sense that today’s leading men lack. Aside from Djokovic, it’s hard to think of a top player that stands out in more than just his tennis ability. Grand Slam champions like Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka are terrific players, but individuals that won’t leave a special mark on the sport once they retire.
This final is more important for Nadal, who has remained healthy early in the season, which might be the most important thing. Another win for Federer won’t change the narrative of one last big push he’s having in 2017. For Nadal, a win over Federer doesn’t just restore the balance in their personal rivalry, but also grants him his first non-clay Masters title since 2013. In a world where he’s no longer the most feared force on clay (one masters title in 2016, one in 2014), heading into “red” season with a trophy from Miami is a serious show of intentions with the Roland Garros looming not too far away.