After his 46 76 67 defeat against Thomas Berdych, Roger Federer said, and it's not the first time, to be happy to leave the American hardcourts and start playing on the red clay.
It could seem a paradox, but what happened last year could, or should, gave space for different considerations. It's hard to believe he is not interested in winning the two American Masters1000 or playing well. "It fuels my desire to go to the practice courts, because I don't like to lose these type of matches", declared in the post match press conference.
But his two consecutive defeats, against either Baghdatis and Berdych, not capitalising match points, is an unmistakable sign of a champion getting nervous, against an usually mercurial opponent playing a mentally and technically consistent match . The same thing, losing two matches in a row while being a point away from success, already happened to him at least once, in 2005, when he surrendered to Safin in the epic Australian Open semifinal and to Gasquet in another memorable showdown in Montecarlo.
"I fought as much as I could," Federer said. "My game has issues at the moment. I'm definitely lacking timing. I don't know where that comes from". Lacking time that led Berdych to end a streak of eight consecutive losses against Federer and, at the same time, of 11 defeats in a row against top-10 opponents. The match was tight, with both players realizing 119 points, lasted 2h 51m with a series of blockbuster rallies and strokes.
The Swiss started better, immediately broke, but out of nowhere found himself entrapped in an uncommon series of errors (21 to 8 at the end of the first set) while Berdych went winning the set thanks to a streak of 5 games in a row after 34 minutes.
The Czech was extremely solid in saving four break points in the beginning of the second set, in a 16-points game, and he had to thank twice the netcord and twice Roger netting a pair of backhands. Roger will have other three break points, in a pair of marathon games, but no-one could break till the unavoidable tiebreaker.
An extraordinary point gave Federer the first of a series of exchanged minibreaks and three forahand errors by Berdych, who couldn't execute easy shots, gave the Swiss the tiebreak 7 points to 3.
Berdych remained consistent, insisting with backspin backhands and attacking with the forehand from the deuce side he broke to 2-1 until he gave space to pressure wrecking havoc in his mind. A double fault handed Federer a break back to 4-4. Federer, in the same situation, collected an astonishing amount of 61 errors (gifting his opponent half of the points he collected in the match), arrived twice two points away from victory, but was forced to a second tiebreak in the decider.
The crowd, in the sold out central court, lived with full participation a match filling up their expectations in term of thrilling and quality. Tension ran on the wire when Berdych attacked on Federer's backhand to go leading 5-4, but Federer recurred to one of his innumerable arrows in his armour, a drop shot, to go 5-5 and an unforced error sent him serving for the match at 6-5.
Here Berdych surprised Federer with two winning forehands and closing the match after 2h51 sixteen minutes after midnight in Miami and took off the chance to live the most expected final, a duel attended in vain since Madrid 2009.
Roger can be however quite relaxed about his chance to beat Pete Sampras' record of number of weeks as world no.1. In Miami Rafa will be the only top player, among the Big Five, to gain or not to lose points. And, having defended his title in Dubai, Djokovic is his most dangerous contender. But the Serb, to hope leap-frogging Federer before the 10th May (his 282nd week at the top of the ranking) should have won every Masters1000 from February to the Roland Garros.
So, despite the defeat, Federer can be definitely claim being the GOAT.