Of the Big Three in tennis, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are the only two playing the Miami Open, with Rafael Nadal having withdrawn due to his knee injury sustained at Indian Wells, instead turning his gaze towards the more assured footing of the clay season.
With Federer and Djokovic—two hard court legends—their success is pretty much guaranteed? Not so much. Fed had difficulty closing out his first match against Radu Albot, losing the first set, and admitting to having been of “two minds” but happy to “find a way” to win anyway.
Although Djokovic sailed through his first match in easier fashion, defeating Bernard Tomic in straight sets, his second match proved a much testier matchup, with the Serb finding a “positive way” to finally close it out over Federico Delbonis in three sets, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.
“To be honest, I lost my focus. I should have done better I think mentally than I have done end of first set and also end of second set. I managed to really play well last couple games of first set, go up a break, put myself in front, then I played a couple of really bad service games.
Credit to Federico, he stepped in. He was the one controlling the pace. I backed up. I didn't have that much depth and power in my shots, and he used it. “I think last four games have been terrific, so I ended up in a positive way”.
Some of the players have complained about the amount of glare and the shadows on the courts, but the world No. 1 was pleased with the transformation from the Key Biscayne facilities, and noted that the conditions were favorable to the 31-year-old.
“I mean, obviously the wind was always a factor in Key Biscayne. It was very strong. It was very humid and warm. Here, because of the big football stadium, it feels like you're playing kind of an indoor match. You don't really feel much wind on the court.
“Today it was there slightly from one end, but it's completely different in terms of wind and sun. There is no sun after 1 p.m. on the center court. It's great for tennis. I think also the absence of sun and wind make the conditions slightly slower, as well.
It's not as easy to hit through the court. You got to work a bit more for your points”. Novak Djokovic talked about how his relationship with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer has changed over the years. Rafa admitted that a final between Nole and him a few years ago had the been the toughest anyone had ever played against the Spaniard.
The Serb voiced his mutual respect for the 17-time slam champion, as well as his other great Swiss rival. “Well, I return the favor. Nadal and Roger. I mean, these two guys. And Stan I think also couple matches that we had in Grand Slam finals, he played some amazing tennis.
“Yeah, because of those rivalries that I had with them, I was forced to dig deeper and understand what it takes, what I need to do to improve my game even more. When you get smashed on the court, obviously it doesn't feel great, but it does make you really address your game more than I guess any other moment”.
The 15-time slam champion candidly discussed how his relationship with the other Big Three has evolved over the years. He talked about the frustration he felt early on in his career, how much admiration he’s developed for Rafa and Fed since, how they inspired him to become a better player himself, and his gracious answer to be included with them in this Golden Age of Tennis.
“I am obviously part of this group of players. I'm grateful for that. At the beginning of my career, I was probably frustrated to have Nadal and Federer in the same era because they were winning so much, they were so dominant.
They kept being dominant. I just managed to up my level and start winning against them on the biggest tournaments, start getting some major titles. “Yes, I do feel like these guys have helped my game tremendously. I did say that many times before.
I really don't know what would happen if I was in a different era. It's difficult to say really. I am grateful that I am part of this group”. Up next for the Serb is Roberto Bautista Agut, who just beat Djokovic in Doha two months ago, although the reigning Australian Open winner owns their head-to-head with seven wins compared to the Frenchman’s two.
“I think I'm hitting the ball well. I just need a little bit more consistency I think to hold that level of play throughout the entire match. I think that's what it's going to take to win against Bautista. He is one of those players that make you work very hard for every single point.
He doesn't make mistakes. Just runs around the court. “He's very, very consistent and very solid. He improved his backhand, he improved his serve, and his forehand was always very, very solid and powerful. “He won against me in Doha this year.
I was a set and a break up. I remember that match. He managed to turn the match around. I'll definitely do my homework and hopefully get the win in that match”. They face off on Tuesday. It will likely be a tight match.