March 27, 2012 | 12:40 PM
Perhaps it had to happen. Rog had to lose some time. Andy had to win some time. Miami, where Andy's had some of his best results over the year, had been venue to three previous three setters between the pair, and finally one went Andy's way: 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-4.
This wasn't one coughed up by Rog like his losses here and at in IW in 2010 (both 7-6 in the 3rd set after he'd held match points). In the 1st set, neither player was broken and only Andy faced break points (2) before the breaker, when he came big at 4-4 with a FH passing shot off a Fed overhead down the middle from deep in the court (great defensive lob by Andy). Andy got lucky when he approached to Roger's forehand on the next point and the passing shot hit the net tape. An unreturnable serve gave him the set.
The 2nd set was all Roger, and the 3rd set began with all the pressure on Andy to hold. Down 15-40 early on, he had to fight off several break points. As so often happens after a tough hold, Andy got an opening in the next game from his opponent, breaking at 30. From there, in spite of pressure and trailing in the score on serve, Andy continued to hold and served out the match with an unreturnable serve at 5-4, 30-30 (after being down 15-30), and an ace on his first match point.
Roger may have hit more aces and won more points than Andy, but in a match so close and so well played on both ends, it's who wins the last point. Win #3 for Andy against the Swiss, to 21 losses. It may not be the last time they play, but it may well be Andy's last win.
The quality of tennis throughout the match was as high as it's been since the Wimbledon '09 final. The two have played each other enough to know what needs to be done to win. Both men played their best cards, which for Andy meant playing more out of his comfort zone, going for more winners early in the point and even approaching the net - anything to take advantage of the few opportunities Rog gives him (he earned but two break points in this match, and converted one, while fighting off 7 or more). Both players know that trading shots from the baseline leaves Andy at a disadvantage, so Rog was more comfortable going for less than he's been doing lately. This is one of those times when his thoughtful game plan came up short in spite of the odds in favor of it. He can live with that, even though his semi-final finish last year costs him a couple of hundred points.
FED's consolation: a much needed rest before he begins his clay season. It wouldn't surprise me if he becomes a late entrant to Estoril in late April as a warm up after skipping Monte Carlo, if he doesn't decide to return there (he's played one or the other of these events every other year since '08). The last clay event he won was Roland Garros in '09. Before that, a pair of titles in Estoril belong to him, as well as a couple in Hamburg (no longer in the ATP schedule). He's never won Monte Carlo, Rome or Madrid, the three 1000 events on clay. This doesn't mean he doesn't want to give himself a chance to win one. The other top 3 will play Monte Carlo April 15, along with the rest of the top 10 minus Del Potro and Fish. Isner will also be there.
For ANDY this win is a stay of execution in the nick of time for his ego, which hasn't been fed since his last win over a top 10 player (Ferrer at The Open in 4th round), and for his ranking which had plummeted to a 12 year low of 34 this week, down 20 spots from the start of '11. If Andy's to have any chance to make the Olympic squad a last time this year, he has to do something BIG here and again on grass in June, as well as hope that Mardy Fish or John Isner do little or nothing between now and July. Odds are high that Andy will be hosting his radio show during London this year, but it's good to see he hasn't given up fighting.
The gift to Andy: a 4th round match-up with #21 Juan Monaco, the lowest seed remaining in the draw (unseeded Grigor Dimitrov also remains), and a quarterfinal opportunity with either Fish or Almagro, neither of whom has been tearing up the pavement lately. Andy's record with these three:
- 1-0 with Almagro (beat him 1 and 4 last year in NC)
- 2-0 with Almagro (beat him routinely in straight sets in '11 and '10)
- 9-3 with Fish (hasn't beaten him since '08; lost to him last two times, in 2010, both on hard)
OTHER FIGHTERS TONIGHT: Azarenka and Venus
The last day match dragged on as VIKA had to pull one out of the hat as she did in her opening match at IW, when she was ill, and as she did last year here in Miami against the same feisty, diminutive opponent, #16 seed Dominika Cibulkova. This time it wasn't the #1 who barfed up a huge lead, as Nika pounded out enough winners to give herself an even greater edge than she blew last year: 6-1, 4-0 she lead today, versus 6-3, 3-1 last year. These two are used to three setters: their last 5 encounters have been three, with Vika taking 4 of them. At 5'3", Nika clearly plays big against her larger than life opponent who had to call on everything she had to win this one, along with some help from Nika at the end (a double-fault and a missed sitter gave her the final game):
I kept rolling with the same match and wasn't adjusting. In the end I was trying to change something. But it was more about fighting in my HEART today rather than any other shot.
Odds are these two will meet and fight again.
Not so, perhaps, for Venus and her latest victim, Ana Ivanovic, playing her best tennis in several years. In this battle which was closer throughout than the final score indicates (6-7, 6-2, 6-2) and took almost 2.5 hours (longer than Fed v Roddick at just over 2 hours), the first set was anybody's to win. The margin came down to a challenge won by Ana to a Venus serve that was wide by a sliver and gave Ana a mini-break that she could capitalize on. Both women were hitting out, feeding off each other's pace, and making wonderful winners in long exchanges. Neither woman hesitated to come in and hit a real volley (not just the swinging volley finishes which represent so of the women's forecourt game).
Set two was knotted until a long game at 2-3 ended up giving Venus the break. After that, Ana continued to fight, and by the end of two sets, she was the one who had earned by far the most break chances (she'd end the match with one break in 12 opportunities, to Venus' 5 out of 6).
Set 3 was also close to mid set and beyond. Venus nearly gave back the break at 4-2, when she double-faulted 5 times and nervously let several tosses drop to the court (ironically, until recently, it's been Ana who's struggled with a wayward toss and double faults galore; today, she had just three, and remained composed under pressure that both women seemed to enjoy until the close).
Moving into the quarterfinals, Venus will play Radwanska, while Serena faces Wozniacki tomorrow in one of two quarters (the other pits Li Na against Maria).
Bartoli and Azarenka make up the 4th quarter (to play Wednesday with Venus).
MEN'S 4TH ROUND ACTION TUESDAY
The marquee match in the men's 4th round tomorrow will be Del Potro v Ferrer at 9:30 pm
(Ferrer leads their series 3-2).
Murray v Simon could also be a battle, though with similar styles their long rallies have ended up going more Andy's way (he's won their last 8 meetings with th los of only two sets back to a single loss in '07 on clay).
Miami Monday 2 (late matches)