It's hard to say this was a letdown, because Rafa played so well and it was a joy to watch. But if Rafa and Fed are going to play a semi-high-stakes match, it's kind of a bummer when it's a thoroughly one-sided 63 62 affair that only lasts an hour and 16 minutes.
The sellout Miami crowd certainly agreed. They were sloshed when the match started and they were sloshed+ when it ended. An hour just isn't enough time to sober up. In fact, on a Friday night it's only enough time to get slightly more drunk. So you could excuse the clearly pro-Rafa crowd when they started chanting Roger's name in the second set. Loudly. The stadium was rocking for Roger, as fans waving Spanish flags and wearing Vamos hats stopped rooting for Rafa and started rooting for more bang for their buck. I found myself right there with them, thinking "Come on Fed, you can do it!"
It was a really traumatic experience. I don't want to talk about it anymore. I can't show you where the bad man touched me. Out of self-preservation, I've blocked it from my memory.
But it wasn't meant to be. Rafa was playing scintillating tennis and Fed either couldn't stay in the rallies (it felt like ever rally over 10 shots went to Rafa) or he would go shank-crazy. Did I say "or"? I meant "and". It got to the point that I began to wonder whether he thought foul tips meant a do-over.
"I think I played a very, very good match, very solid and serious. First set especially I think I played very, very good. Second set I think he played worse. He had more mistakes than usual. He tried to play shorter points, so I think second set he didn't play well."
Roger had 31 UFEs for the match to Rafa's 10 and looked listless throughout. He reminded me a lot of Kim in her quarterfinal loss to Vika: low intensity, trying to find his way out of it, but pressing and reeling in response to the pressure from Rafa. Basically, Fed was as flat as his uninspired grey, collarless shirt.
He needs to go back to collars. He can have his boring greys and blues, but he needs collars. Trust me, the magic is in the collar.
It's a damn shame the match was so quick because for the first time since I've been here I was really relishing that Miami crowd. I have never been in a tennis stadium that was packed to the hilt *and* full of fans who were fully engaged in the match. Every swing seemed to elicit a murmur, a routine fault would get groans. And winners? Eruption. It was a unique sound and feel to a tennis match, and honestly, with the warm, heavy, humid air settling over the grounds, there was a moment late in the first set where I didn't even feel like I was in the States. It felt like South America. This just didn't feel like tennis in the States, where we're used to sparse crowds, muted clapping, and the occasional rowdy cheer. This was energy from start to finish. This is how we should want it to be: sold out crowds, packed stadiums, and energized and passionate fans.
So it'll be Rafa vs Nole for the second time in two weeks. Nole has been on fire, don't get me wrong. But his level has looked a tick lower than it was in Indian Wells. Rafa meanwhile has just improved with each match and, despite the fact that he's struggling with a right shoulder tweak, seems to have found his game here in Miami.
All this is to say, I tend to think, 50.1% to 49.9%, that Nole's streak of 25 straight wins ends on Sunday. Of course if I'm wrong then Nole will take his 26th win and break Lendl's 25 match win streak in 1986.
“I don’t feel invincible. What I feel is big confidence. What I feel is that I’m playing best tennis of my life.”
We gonna see, no?
(Pics: Getty, AP)