It wasn’t always easy, but in the end Roger had enough in his arsenal to step things up when he needed to and move past Frances Tiafoe 7-6(2) 6-3 in his opening match of the Miami Masters. Playing his first match at the tournament since 2014, the world number six had to overcome a pretty impressive showing from his young opponent, who rose to the occasion and demonstrated why those in his native USA believe he has a big future in the sport. In terms of his own performance Roger pretty much did what he had to, serving very well bar one woeful game at the start of the second and showcasing some of the aggressive all court game that’s won him the Australian Open and Indian Wells Masters in the first quarter of the year.
The opening set saw both players whizz through their service games without facing a break point. There was some good shot making throughout, but it was mainly first strike tennis with neither guy getting much of a read on the other’s serve until Roger served to stay in the set at 5-6. A couple of crunching shots from Tiafoe took it to 30-30 and the first half chance of the set, but thankfully for Roger the 19-year-old mishit a very makeable forehand before an ace sealed the game and took us to a tiebreak. An excellent point was finished off at the net to give Roger an immediate mini break, and he ran away with it from there to take it 7-2 and make it a fourth consecutive tiebreak won. It was great to see Roger step it up a couple of gears in the breaker after the opening twelve games were so even, as has often been the case in 2017 he’s been able to play close to his best tennis when it’s really counted.
After doing so well to clinch the first set, Roger’s intensity dropped off a cliff at the start of the second as two dreadful forehand misses gifted Tiafoe a break from out of nowhere. That was where the blip ended though, and a backhand winner down the line restored parity in the very next game before three more break points came and went a return game later as the world number 101 just about managed to stay with Roger for the time being. A mention also has to go to a stunning wrong footing slice in the third game which would have given Tiafoe 0-30 had Roger not pulled it off. The American was starting to look a little more ragged now, and he made a mess of a simple backhand volley to hand Roger the crucial break in game six. We were treated to a SABR return winner in the penultimate game, albeit via a killer net cord, and the match was in the bag moments later as a service winner sealed a last comfortable hold of serve.
WHAT ROGER SAID
“He seemed to be fearless, good serving, taking the ball early and making the plays.
“I think he’s going to be really good, like most of the NextGen campaign. They’re pushing each other up right now, they have a good dynamic and they are quite friendly with one another, yet they have a good rivalry.”
On next opponent Juan Martin Del Potro:
“I’m happy for him with his comeback, winning at Davis Cup.
“I should have played him here last year but I was sick, but it’s better to play him maybe this time around when we’re both better.
“We’ve had some epic matches against each other, and I’m sure the crowd would love to see it.”
PREDICTIONS FOR THE NEXT ROUND
Up next for Roger is a blockbuster third round clash against Juan Martin Del Potro, who cruised past Robin Haase in yesterday’s night match. The pair haven’t played since their thrilling clash at the World Tour Finals in 2013, but Roger is playing a lot better now than he was then and you still feel like Del Potro is yet to quite find his feet this year after taking extra time off following his Davis Cup winning exploits at the end of 2016. Obviously keeping the ball away from Del Potro’s devastating forehand for the most part will be key, but mixing it up to keep him guessing will be even more important to not allow him to settle into any sort of real rhythm.
Roger’s variety has often caused the Argentine problems on the slower hard courts, and if he is on his game and can move Del Potro around the court then I like his chances of getting it done in straight sets. It’s another one of those matches in which the outcome could be just about anything, but Roger is the favourite for sure and should be able to win without too much trouble.