Roger Federer spoke ahead of the Miami Open presented by Itau final about how attempting to return 2018 champion John Isner’s serve is like playing goalie, simply trying to put the ball back in play.
But it was Isner left scrambling on Sunday, in awe of the 37-year-old Swiss’ efforts. Federer broke the home favourite four times en route to his fourth Miami title.
“There have been some players [to handle my serve well]. He just does it a little bit differently. He just kind of blocks it back. Whereas Novak, when he's locked in, he just kind of rips it back, doesn't block it too much,” said Isner, who fell just two sets short of retaining his crown. “Roger was standing in close as well, just reacting very well and very fast to my serve. I mean, he's something else.”
Isner had been broken just four times through five matches at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament entering the final. But Federer broke in the opening game and three times in the opening set. He never looked back from there.
“He was making a lot of returns back, blocking them back. I needed to come out, especially in that first game, and really try to assert myself. I didn't serve a particularly great game, but he made me pay for it,” Isner said of Federer’s immediate break. “I knew he was going to play well today. I knew he was seeing the ball very big. Certainly that was the case. I wasn't up to the task in the first set, that's for sure.”
It became clear in the second set that Isner was struggling with a left foot injury. But the 6’10” right-hander gave full credit to Federer for his performance.
“Roger was too good. In the first five games, I was fine,” Isner said. “Nothing was bothering me. He was all over me. Then this weird pain on the top of my foot, we'll see what is. I'm hoping it's nothing, but we'll see.”
Last year, Isner became the oldest first-time Masters 1000 champion when he triumphed at Crandon Park. While this year’s event was held at a new venue, Hard Rock Stadium, Isner played impressive tennis to reach the final without dropping a set.
“It's a terrible feeling, because you're on an island out there, and you have no teammates to hide behind and going up against the greatest player ever, playing in this incredible atmosphere, and my foot's killing me,” Isner said. “Not that I would have won the match, anyways, let's make that clear, but I think I could have made for a more interesting match and one that was a little more fun.”
While Isner leaves Miami disappointed with the final, he was able to soak in the atmosphere inside the home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, where a packed crowd cheered on both players throughout.
“I'm very happy with it. I mean, that atmosphere out there today… I can't tell you how cool that was, seeing the whole upper deck full. I thought it was fantastic,” Isner said. “I think the players have enjoyed it. It's a lot of space. I think the fans have enjoyed it, as well. Just really simply amazing. I just wish I could have given them a little bit better match out there today.”