Can David Be Goliath? Sony Open Men’s Final Preview

Will the division of hardware be the same in Miami as it was in Shanghai?

A clear line of demarcation separates the encounters between David Ferrer and Andy Murray by surface.  While the world No. 5 has reigned supreme over their rivalry on clay, the world No. 3 has dictated the terms of their matches on outdoor hard courts.  Most notable of those was the straight-sets final that Murray won from the Spaniard at the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai.  There as in their other meetings on this surface, Ferrer could find no way to outlast this equally durable, consistent opponent from the baseline, while Murray’s superior power allowed him to finish points more easily.  Most of these matches have featured one grinding rally after another, but the Scot’s superior first serve has allowed him to win more free points and earn easier holds.

On the other hand, Ferrer has won two of their last three meetings overall and battled Murray to the brink of a fifth set in the third, so the recent momentum stands balanced between them.  Both men claimed the most notable triumphs of their respective careers in 2012, Murray winning his first major at the US Open and Ferrer earning his first Masters 1000 shield at the Paris Indoors.  Both men started the year brightly with deep runs in Melbourne and have won small titles.  Indifferent in form at Indian Wells, they have sharpened their weapons here while capitalizing on the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.  More impressive in general are Murray’s performances, for he has dropped only one set to a superior sequence of opponents than those who have faced Ferrer.  The Spanish veteran dropped the first set in each of his last two matches and needed all of his feistiness to claw back from those deficits as well as a final-set deficit in his semifinal against Tommy Haas.  He must aim to start more positively against Murray, who for his part must try to finish more sturdily than he did in his semifinal.

Dropping the first set of that match to Gasquet, the world No. 3 failed to serve out that set and later struggled to consolidate leads in the final set.  The 2009 champion here, he has not won a Masters 1000 tournament since that Shanghai meeting with Ferrer and surely would relish reaching No. 2 by ending that drought.  For Murray, who plays his least convincing tennis on clay, Sunday marks an opportunity to end the hard-court season with a statement that would wrest back some of the spotlight from the rest of the Big Four.  For Ferrer, Sunday marks an opportunity to build crucial momentum for a strong run on the red dirt in which he revels.  Never has a Spanish man claimed the title in Miami, a startling fact in view of the relatively slow courts and the outstanding crop of stars that his nation has produced this century.  Great Britain, by contrast, has produced just one, and the maturity with which Murray has responded to the pressure of those circumstances has helped him accumulate the poise and patience with which he can persevere against the indefatigable Ferrer.  A steady second to Nadal in Spanish tennis, their recent rankings notwithstanding, David should finish second to another Goliath on Sunday.