So I was watching the Roger Federer/Rafa Nadal Miami Open final and was struck by two details:
1. Damned if Federer's new backhand doesn't look just like Ivan Ljubicic's old one.
2. Federer is the best sports story of 2017 so far.
Yeah, I know the NCAA final was just played. Nothing really new with Cheatin' North Carolina walking away with all the glory again. OK, I'd throw the UConn women's basketball team upset in there as a contender, but here's what the Federer story has right now that makes it unlike no other -- Nadal.
We're talking about two legends of the game who came up together and were both overtaken at the same time and are now meeting again in big-money finals, despite their lower seeding. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are the ones struggling with injury and the veterans are doing the heavy lifting, despite Roger's poor back.
Their matchups now don't seem to carry the same tension, because Federer is just thumping Nadal right now. With his new backhand, he's taken away the linchpin of Nadal's strategy against him, and although Nadal presented a much tougher challenge than he did in the Australian Open final, it wasn't enough. Well, Federer's changed a component of his game. Perhaps it's time Nadal did the same thing. What is that thing he needs to do? He's gotta stop playing from the first row of the spectator seats. Yes, he's fast and can do ridiculous things on defense, but now that he can't depend on Fed's backhand to attack, he needs to focus on taking time away from Federer by playing closer to the baseline. With the clay season coming up, yeah, he'll be fine so far back, but if he's really going to push to stay with Federer, he's going to need to lean in. Like, a lot.
Having said all of that, it's time to also give it up for Nick Kyrgios. He is just going to be the John McEnroe of our time. It's going to be hard to watch his antics sometimes and he's going to have to pay some fines, maybe even get suspended again. Kyrgios likes to say he'd rather be playing basketball, but one of two things his semifinal against Federer showed us is that's not altogether true. He cared about winning that particular match. And I get the vitriol against him, but the crowd, if nothing else, should have been able to appreciate the tennis they saw -- it might have been the best men's match of the year. Yes, it's April.