There will be a first-time champion at the Miami Open for the first time since 2009. A day after six-time champion Novak Djokovic was sent packing, there was an even bigger upset as defending champion and world number one Roger Federer was stunned in his opening match, leaving no former Miami champions in the draw.
Coming off a runner-up performance in Indian Wells last week, the Swiss was looking to reassert his control on the tour but ran into a far stiffer test than expected in the form of world number 175 Thanasi Kokkinakis. The Aussie youngster, who has struggled with injury over the last two seasons, showed serious poise as he rallied from a set down to force a deciding set tiebreak.
For the second match in a row, Federer could not figure out how to get over the finish line, falling in a second consecutive deciding set breaker as Kokkinakis became the lowest ranked player in 15 years to defeat a world number one with a 3-6, 6-3 7-6(4) victory.
Opportunistic Federer solid early
After a disappointing loss just under a week ago in the Indian Wells final, which saw his serve let him down late in the final set, Federer seemed to have successfully hit the reset button to start his Miami campaign. The Swiss was strong on serve throughout the opening set, only losing one point in his first two service games.
Kokkinakis, on the other hand, needed a little more time to work himself into the match. After opening with a hold to 30, he found himself stuck at deuce in the fourth game. Errors would be his undoing as a pair of shots into the net at deuce gave his opponent the break for a 3-1 lead.
With Federer’s high serving level, that would be enough for the Swiss. Despite Kokkinakis upping his own service level and holding easily for the remainder of the set, he never got a look at breaking back. Federer would only lose six service points in the opening set, which he took 6-3.
Kokkinakis flips the script
The Aussie was in danger of letting the match slip away in the opening game of the second set, as he found himself down break point at 30-40. He was up to the task, saving it with a gutsy swinging forehand volley after following his serve into the net. The Aussie would go on to hold
The hold seemed to flip the momentum in Kokkinakis’ favour. On Federer’s serve in the fourth game, the Aussie took a love-40 lead with a huge forehand winner and secured the love break when Federer sent a forehand wide. After serving brilliantly in the opening set, the defending champion seemed to have lost a step as he was forced to save two more break points in his next service game, although he saved both to stay within striking distance.
However, the roles were now truly reversed. Although it was not easy, Kokkinakis continued to hold serve and managed to deprive the Swiss of chances to break back. The closest Federer came was at 2-4 when he pushed the Aussie to deuce but failed to bring up a break point. Kokkinakis held on to force a deciding set.
Tiebreak hands Kokkinakis a shocker
Both men seemed to have shaken out what service jitters they had shown early on by the third set. Neither was giving an inch in the decider, although Federer did have his chances. Up 3-2 on the Aussie’s serve, Federer twice stood at break point. But Kokkinakis continued to show some serious guts on the breakpoints, going for broke and saving the first with a huge forehand and the second with a service winner.
Neither man could solve the other’s service, sending the match to a deciding set tiebreak. Just like the Indian Wells final, Federer got off to a slow start, falling behind an early minibreak although he was quickly able to reclaim it. Just like the match itself, openings for the returner were hard to come by.
In the end, the decisive point came with Kokkinakis up 4-3 on Federer’s serve. A big, deep forehand from the Aussie drew a backhand into the net from a lunging Federer for the minibreak. That would be enough for Kokkinakis, who scored the final who points of the match with a forehand winner followed by another unreturnable serve to wrap up the historic win.
By the numbers
Federer actually had the better numbers in this match. The Swiss had nine aces to only three double faults and won 82 percent of his first serve points. Kokkinakis had seven aces to go along with seven double faults, winning 77 percent of his first serve points. Both men broke serve once, although Kokkinakis had to save two more break points than the Swiss. In fact, Federer even won two more points than his young opponent. Kokkinakis simply won the points that mattered most in the third set tiebreak.
By failing to defend his points as defending champion from 2017, Federer will lose his spot atop the ATP rankings when the tournament ends, with the idle Rafael Nadal returning to the top spot. The loss is Federer's earliest at a Masters 1000 event since Rome in 2010 and earliest in Miami since 2000.
By defeating the world number one, 175th ranked Kokkinakis becomes the lowest-ranked player to defeat the world number one since world number 178 Francisco Clavet pulled the same feat on the very same court in Miami back in 2003 when he defeated then-world number one Lleyton Hewitt.
Kokkinakis will meet Fernando Verdasco in the third round.