Fed hopes 'the stars align' against big-serving Isner

MIAMI • Roger Federer is gearing up for a Miami Open final shoot-out with John Isner today after blowing away young gun Denis Shapovalov in straight sets.

The Swiss maestro produced a 6-2, 6-4 masterclass at Hard Rock Stadium on Friday to leave up-and-coming star Shapovalov, who grew up idolising him, chasing shadows during a difficult first set.

Federer was superb in dismantling the 19-year-old's game, but knows with huge-serving Isner lying in wait in what will be the former world No. 1's 50th ATP Masters final, the key will be to defuse the reigning Miami Open champion's monster service game.

Isner used it to great effect in his 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4) win over Shapovalov's friend and compatriot Felix Auger-Aliassime earlier in the day, smashing down 21 aces against the 18-year-old.

"Playing a big server like John is like being in a penalty shoot-out in soccer, but I enjoy it," said No. 4 seed Federer.

"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.

"You just hope that 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."

Federer had no such challenge from Shapovalov, playing his fifth ATP Tour semi-final. Even though the Swiss was standing in his way of a first final, the teenager stressed beforehand that it was a "dream" to take on Federer.

It quickly, however, turned into a nightmare.

The Canadian displayed understandable nerves early on, a struggle with his first serve proving as much in a 10-minute opening game which he eventually won.

Yet it did not settle him down and, when another horribly loose backhand flew long, Federer pocketed a vital early break and stayed in the driver's seat.

Shapovalov, who will jump to a career-best 20th in the world rankings thanks to this impressive run, enjoyed some better moments in the second set and looked more relaxed, although the match was never in his hands. He hit just eight winners in response to Federer's 30 but will learn from this.

"It's kind of surreal, being on the court against Roger," he admitted.

"I was just trying to play as good as I can, but he played an excellent match. I wasn't able to stay at his level. I'm just going to try to learn from this and move forward."



Final: StarHub Ch201, tomorrow, 1am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'Fed hopes 'the stars align' against big-serving Isner'. Print Edition | Subscribe