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Tennis News • Ricky’s Preview And Pick For The Miami Open Final: Federer vs. Isner

By Ricky Dimon

John Isner is one win away from an improbable title defense of his 2018 Miami Open title.

But he may not be quite as close as “one win” sounds given that the player he repeatedly hails as the greatest of all time stands in his way on Sunday.

It will be Isner vs. Roger Federer in the championship match, with Federer leading the head-to-head series 5-2. The 6’10” American won their most recent encounter, but surprisingly the two veterans have not faced each other since 2015 (Federer got the job done at the U.S. Open before Isner won 7-6(3), 3-6, 7-6(5) at the Paris Masters). This is not their first final showdown during the March hard-court swing, as Federer triumphed 7-6(7), 6-3 to lift the 2012 Indian Wells trophy.

Both players have been in outstanding form this fortnight. Well, in Federer’s case he has been stellar throughout the entire first three months of the season. The 37-year-old Swiss is 17-2 this season with a title in Dubai, a runner-up finish in Indian Wells, and Miami wins at the expense of Radu Albot, Filip Krajinovic, Daniil Medvedev, Kevin Anderson, and Denis Shapovalov.

“That would be awesome for me,” Isner said after winning the first semifinal when asked about possibly facing Federer. “Any time you play against him would be, in a big stage, a tournament like this, would be amazing. I played him in the finals of Indian Wells seven years ago; he beat me there. It would be really cool to play against him. Certainly playing Roger would be a very big moment.”

Federer has not surrendered a set since dropping his first one against Albot, while Isner has been perfect the entire way. Of course, it has not been easy for the world No. 9. Whereas Federer has not played a single tiebreaker so far, Isner is an amazing 9-0 in ‘breakers out of 10 total sets played. The seventh seed has defeated Lorenzo Sonego, Albert Ramos-Vinolas (one set was 7-5), Kyle Edmund, Roberto Bautista Agut, and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

“It’s a tricky one,” Federer said of returning Isner’s serve. “Sometimes you go with momentum. Sometimes you go with feel. Sometimes you guess maybe a little bit and sometimes you see it. It’s a combination of all sort of things…. No. 1, you want to connect. Secondly, you want to get in a neutral position–which is very difficult, because you know he’s looking for his forehand or he looks to come in or try to take charge of the point. It’s tough. Then you just hope that sort of the stars align; that you pick the right side, that he picks the wrong side, that maybe he misses a serve, that you can put him in uncomfortable situations time and time again, and at the end somehow you find a way.

“He’s definitely got one of the serves you can basically not read.”

But it is Isner is the one who has really struggled returning serve in this head-to-head matchup. In fact, in six meetings on surfaces other than clay, Isner has not broken Federer a single time. That doesn’t bode well for the underdog, who may have an upper hand if tiebreakers are the story but also may have difficult tough time getting there. He was broken twice by Auger-Aliassime, and Federer has been returning serve extremely well (the 20-time major champion broke Anderson a whopping five times, for example).

Count on a competitive contest, with a slight edge going to Federer–who will be eager to avoid back-to-back final losses after going down to Dominic Thiem in the desert.

Pick: Federer in 3

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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