Incredible! Roger Federer wins again, is off to best start since 2006

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The last time Roger Federer won the first three big tournaments of the tennis season — the Australian Open and the two American hard-court Masters events in Indian Wells and Miami — was in 2006, when he was a 24-year-old in the midst of one of the most staggering stretches of sustained brilliance the sport has ever seen. Eleven years later, Federer is dropping jaws again.

The 35-year-old Swiss maestro defeated Rafael Nadal on Sunday in a tough 6-3, 6-4 battle in the final of the Miami Open. It’s his first win at the tournament since ’06 and the third time he’s swept the three biggest events to start the year — he also did it in 2005, back during that period when he was going 68-2 in Grand Slams, with eight wins and two losses in finals.

At the beginning of the year, if you’d told Federer, who was ranked No. 17 in the world after sitting out the last five months of 2016 recuperating from a knee injury, that he would win in Melbourne, Indian Wells or Miami, he’d have surely taken it. The Fed hadn’t won a major in five years, hadn’t taken a Masters event in two years and had just two titles in his previous 26 starts at the aforementioned three events.

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But Federer shocked the tennis world in Melbourne, capping an old-timer’s weekend that saw Serena Williams beat her sister Venus in the women’s final and then Federer beat his arch-nemesis Rafael Nadal in the men’s. Federer figured to compete at Indian Wells but when he was drawn into a group with Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nick Kyrgios, Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexander Zverev, a fourth round or quarterfinal appearance would have been considered a success. Djokovic lost early, Federer defeated Nadal and then Kyrgios had to pull out of their quarterfinal with a stomach bug. In the final, Federer beat his buddy and tennis punching bag Stan Wawrinka.

The road was easier in Miami but Federer still had to defeat Del Potro and No. 10 Tomas Berdych before getting that hotly anticipated meeting with Kyrgios in the semifinals, the one they hadn’t had a chance to complete in California. It was one of the matches of the year, with Federer winning 7-6 (9), 6-7 (9), 7-6 (5) and keeping that torch in his possession, not quite ready to pass just yet.

And then there was Nadal. Eighteen months ago, Federer was 10-23 against his younger rival, a mark that would be on the only blemish on a nearly flawless career. Since then he’s improbably won four straight matchups, three in finals. Only two other men have defeated Nadal four straight times (Nikolay Davydenko and Djokovic). Now, Federer is 14-23 against Rafa and 12-10 in matches off of Nadal’s dominant clay. The head-to-head has gone from a stain to a tiny asterisk.

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One, two, three titles.

Federer now has a ridiculous 1,810-point lead in the ATP’s 2017 rankings points. If he didn’t play another match this season, those 4,045 points would likely rank him No. 6 for the entire year. More perspective: No player other than Nadal has more than 1,810 points for the entire season and Djokovic and Andy Murray have 1,315 — combined.

The lead won’t last, of course. Federer told ESPN’s Brad Gilbert he won’t be playing any clay-court events except for the French Open (I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him in Rome), which will give the field a chance to catch up. And even when he does play, he won’t be staying undefeated in Slams and 1000’s. But if Federer stays healthy, keeps playing at a high level and doesn’t see Nadal, Djokovic or Murray get super-hot in the summer, then there’s still a reasonable chance he could finish the season at No. 1, a feat that would be unthinkable if Roger Federer hadn’t already moved the bar in 2017.

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