KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — The Sony Open made history on Friday. Unfortunately, it didn’t come on the courts.
For the first time in an ATP main-level tournament since 1968, both men’s semifinals were canceled because of walkovers by 20th-seeded Kei Nishikori in the afternoon match and then the seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych in the evening session.
When late-arriving fans at the Crandon Tennis Center were informed by the PA announcer that Berdych pulled out of his evening semifinal against the top-seeded Rafael Nadal with a stomach virus, loud boos rang out.
Those fans who had tickets for both sessions were doubly disappointed as earlier a dejected Nishikori said he was unable to play the second-seeded Novak Djokovic because of a left groin injury.
Perhaps, the only person sicker than a pale-faced Berdych, was tournament director Adam Barrett, who said fans could exchange their tickets for seats at next year’s tournament.
“I ran into (former tournament director) Cliff Buchholz,” Barrett said. “He said, ‘Adam, that’s never happened before. I think you set a record.’
“I said, ‘Cliff, not a record I want to set.’ “
On the bright set, the withdrawals set up a classic matchup for the Sunday afternoon men’s final, pitting No. 1 vs. 2 in the world for the third time in the 30th year of this tournament’s existence, and first since 2011 when the same two finalists, No. 1 Nadal fell to No. 2 Djokovic.
With the top-ranked Serena Williams hoping to win her seventh title in Saturday’s 1 p.m. final against the second-ranked Li Na, it marks the first time in tournament history that both Tours ended up with the desired marquee matchup.
“It’s very unlucky, very unusual for something that can happen,” said Nadal, who’s 22-17 against Djokovic, including five of the last six after snapping a seven-match losing streak to him, all coming in finals from March 2011 to January 2012.
“Sorry for Kei, sorry for Tomas and sorry for the tournament, especially the fans.”
The chicken-and-rice supper Thursday night that felled Berdych most likely spared him further anguish of losing his 17th straight match to Nadal.
“The streak that he’s keeping with me, it’s really long,” Berdych said. “I was hoping this could be the day that I can try to change that and play some good tennis.
“I’m really very disappointed with the way that I have to be here sitting here and talking as the one who loses and didn’t have a chance to hit the ball.”
This tournament has had its run of bad luck but none worse than when Tomas Muster won his semifinal 25 years ago and then was struck by a drunk driver at nearby Bayside, thus granting Ivan Lendl the title in a walkover.
In 1996, Goran Ivanisevic retired after just three games into the final with Andre Agassi with a stiff neck, and in 2004 Guillermo Coria retired in mid-match of his final with Andy Roddick with back spasms.
Djokovic’s third-round opponent Florian Mayer also withdrew with a groin injury, so he’s only needed six sets and 4-hours and 16 minutes on court this week to reach his fifth final here.
It’s such a big event, and from a player’s perspective, it’s never nice to have a walkover to go on to the finals without a fight,” said Djokovic, who’s bidding to sweep Indian Wells and Miami for the second time in his career. “The only thing I can think about is the finals and focus on wining the title.
“Tennis is a very demanding sport. You have to travel 10 of 12 months, change surfaces on a weekly basis. It all can affect the body.”
No one was more disappointed than rising Japanese star Nishikori, who was in the midst of a career-best run with wins over the 16th-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, the fourth-seeded David Ferrer and fifth-seeded great Roger Federer in the quarters.
“It’s really sad because this is one of the biggest tournaments and I was really playing well,” said a dejected Nishikori. “It was a great run for me to beat two top-10 guys and Dmitrov, who’s also playing well.
“It’s one of the greatest weeks for me, so a lot of confidence.”
Nishikori, who will be ranked 19th on Monday, has been nursing a groin injury since retiring in his second-round match at the Delray Beach Open in mid-February. At 24, he’s had to retire from matches 11 times and withdrew in three others.
Kozlov’s special day
At least one teenager had a day to remember as 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov, the world’s second-ranked junior from Pembroke Pines, not only got his learner’s permit but also practiced with Nadal for 45 minutes on Stadium Court.
“Both are huge but it’s got to be hitting with Rafa,” Kozlov said. “It’s one of the toughest hits I’ve ever had in my life.”
Kozlov, who has hit with Federer and Andy Murray before, will practice with Nadal again on Saturday.
Hingis in final
The fans did get to see two women’s doubles semifinals, including another victory by the wild-card tandem of Martina Hingis and Sabine Lisicki, who downed Cara Black and Sania Mirza 6-3, 6-4.
Hingis, whose in the midst of a comeback at 33, is a five-time Grand Slam singles champion and nine-time Slam doubles titlist, but will play her first WTA doubles final since winning Doja with Maria Kirilenko in 2007.
“It’s been awhile right? Seven years,” Hingis said. “The chemistry works out well. What she doesn’t have I have and vice-versa.
“I don’t have the singles itch. The doubles (itch) I had for seven years.”