KEY BISCAYNE, Florida: When Roger Federer takes the court Friday for his first match of this year’s Sony Open, he’ll do so with a bigger, more powerful new racquet and a renewed enthusiasm about a career again on the upswing.
After a disappointing 2013 season dampened by back injuries and a 45-17 record, Federer, who will face Ivo Karlovic in the second round after a bye, enters with a 19-3 record in 2014, including the most wins (four) of any player this year against top-10 opponents.
He moved up three spots to No. 5 in this week’s ATP world rankings after one title and two runner-up finishes so far this year, but said Thursday he’s most happy about being healthy again.
“I have been playing well now for the last seven tournaments. It started at the end of last year, and now I feel I found a good level, a good form,” said Federer, who won this tournament in 2005 and 2006. “But every tournament, it starts from scratch. I don’t get the old wild-card into the semis or anything like that. I have to put in hard work and hope I’m going to have another successful tournament here in Miami.”
Novak Djokovic, who beat Federer in the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday and potentially would face him in the Sony semifinals, said Thursday that Federer is “back to his normal level that he had for seven, eight years while he was so dominant in men’s tennis.”
Added Djokovic, a three-time Sony champ: “I can feel that he’s striking the ball very cleanly. He’s very confident on the court and he has improved his backhand. Maybe it’s the racquet or something else, but he definitely has more depth on that shot.”
Meanwhile, Lleyton Hewitt beat Robin Haase 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to become the third active player on the ATP Tour with 600 career wins. The 33-year-old Australian was presented a congratulatory cake at his postgame press conference after joining Federer (940) and Rafael Nadal (675) in the 600-club.
“To tell you the truth, I totally forgot,” Hewitt said. “Afterwards, you know, it’s a great milestone. Not many people get the opportunity to get close to that, so it means I have been around for an awfully long time as well. A few years ago when I had the last couple of surgeries, I probably would have doubted I’d get to this stage.”
Hewitt will face Nadal in the second round.
Harrison upsets Delbonis
American and Boca Raton resident Ryan Harrison, the world’s No. 112th-ranked player, beat No. 45 Federico Delbonis of Argentina 6-2, 6-4 Thursday.
“I know I can play a much higher level than where I am right now. I’m capable of playing that tennis again. I’ve been there before,” said Harrison, who was ranked as high as No. 43 in 2012.
“It’s just going to have be the same as today a lot more times this year. Just go out there, take care of business, and try to be as competitive and fired up as possible.”
Murray close with former ‘Cane Vallverdu
Reigning Sony champ and 2009 winner Andy Murray, who has a 19-6 career record and lives in Miami, talked Thursday about his longtime friendship with former University of Miami tennis player and hitting partner Daniel Vallverdu. The two met 11 years ago at a tennis academy in Barcelona.
“I used to practice with him a lot. I spent a lot of time traveling with him to tournaments. We played doubles together, some junior events, and then he came over to play in college,” Murray said. “Then when I stopped working with Miles Maclagan, I asked him to come along to a couple of tournaments to help out.”
Fort Lauderdale resident Lauren Davis’ Sony run ended Thursday with a 6-1, 6-1 second-round loss to Ana Ivankovic.
Plantation’s Sloane Stephens, the world’s 16th ranked player, celebrated her 21st birthday on Thursday as she had a first-round bye.
Interestingly, Stephens told the Wall Street Journal she created a wedding registry at Target in her name to receive gifts since Target doesn’t have a registry for birthdays.