What a great afternoon of tennis we have in store from Indian Wells. Arguably, the four best players in the sport who also happen to be the last 24 men’s Grand Slam champions are featured in today’s semifinal round.
In a repeat of the 2009 US Open semifinal lineup, it’s Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro v. Rafael Nadal.
I’ll start with the first match, Nadal v. Del Potro. When these two last played in New York about 18 months ago it was Delpo slapping Nadal in easy fashion 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. However, Nadal had injuries issues with his abs during that match while Delpo as we saw was at his very peak.
This time things are different. Despite his recent play Delpo, I don’t think, is still not back where he was in 2009. And he too may have some lingering injury concerns today with his leg, though the two days offs should help alleviate any ailments.
Nadal’s been productive thus far but going to a third set tiebreak against Ivo Karlovic – who is a far lesser player than Del Potro – gives me some pause.
“He’s one of the best of the world, for sure,” Nadal said on Thursday of playing Delpo. “He’s coming back after one year outside of competition almost. So when you are in a difficult situations like he was last year and you come back and you start to win, you are stronger than before because your motivation and you want to — you know, you want to recover the time that you lost for one year.
“I have to keep improving much more to have chances on the semifinals. I gonna work tomorrow on the doubles to practice, and I hopeful with this confidence and everything I gonna be able to play a fantastic match, because that’s all the way.”
Said Del Potro, “Well, I believe much in my serve, in my game, and my weapons. Maybe I feel little difference at this moment against — between me and the top 10 players here, because I already play against Roddick, against Verdasco, and I feel little difference. So maybe against Rafa I can feel the same. But, you know, it’s a long road. If I lose, I will take a good things to improve in the future. That’s the main and important thing if I lose. Even if I win, I know it’s a long road to be in the top again. Of course I would like to win, but I will see in the future.”
Does Delpo sound like he has that killer instinct yet?
In their series, Nadal leads 4-3 but Del Potro has won their last three (7 of 8 sets!) meetings, all which have been on hard court.
But in the end I’m picking Nadal here. Rafa’s a perfect 16-0 in odds years at Indian Wells. Also, I think Rafa’s out for revenge for that US Open match and I just don’t think Del Potro has that 100% belief yet needed to beat Rafa, though if the Argentine continues on his upward climb he’ll get there very soon. Rafa showed a lot of emotion after his Karlovic win, that should help ride him to victory today. Nadal in straight sets.
In the second match, I had Djokovic winning this title at the start of the week and I’m sticking with that. Novak didn’t play his best yesterday in a 6-2, 6-4 win over Richard Gasquet, but I think he’ll turn that around today against Federer.
After a couple shaky matches against Igor Andreev and Ryan Harrison, Federer breezed yesterday. But I think that was more to do with hs opponent, friend Stan Wawrinka, not putting up much of a fight (again) against his countryman.
The circumstances are again similar to the Australian Open. Federer cruises past Wawrinka only to get tripped up by Djokovic. I think that happens again today and as a result Novak moves ahead of Federer for the No. 2 ranking.
If Novak serves well he’ll win. And the Serb’s been on fire this year winning all 16 matches to extend his career-best win streak to 18. And this week, he’s lost just 12 games in total during Indian Wells so his confidence has to be at an all-time high.
“Confidence plays a very important role in the life of a tennis player,” said Djokovic. “If you can roll on that run and try to use that confidence, then you can have a lot of success and you can really play well. That’s what it’s all about, my game these days. I do feel really comfortable on the court and am trying to use that confidence because I know that it can easily change. It’s a very mental game.”
Head-to-head Federer still holds the big lead at 13-8, but when you dive into the numbers it’s Djokovic who has the upper hand right now. Novak has won the last two meeting this year both on hard courts and both in straight sets – Dubai and Australian Open.
“I have beat him four times before that,” Federer said referring to his 4-1 mark against Novak in 2010. “That’s also happened in the last six months, so I can’t be doing so many things wrong. It’s just that sometimes against top players you can’t win them all. It’s important to have the mindset and right game plan for tomorrow, and that’s what I will be thinking about tonight and tomorrow.”
Federer still should walk away with a title this weekend. After finally getting his first doubles win over rival Rafael Nadal yesterday, Federer and Wawrinka will play Alexandr Dolgpolov and Xavier Malisse for the doubles title later today.
In the women’s final tomorrow, Caroline Wozniacki goes up against surprise finalist Marion Bartoli.
ABC will have live coverage starting at 2pm . ESPN3.com will have live streaming for the big day ahead. Tennis Channel will have the doubles final.
INDIAN WELLS SATURDAY SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
 R Nadal (ESP) vs J Del Potro (ARG) – ATP
 N Djokovic (SRB) vs  R Federer (SUI) – ATP
Not Before 3:00 PM
 B Mattek-Sands (USA) / M Shaughnessy (USA) vs S Mirza (IND) / E Vesnina (RUS) – WTA – DOUBLES FINAL
Not Before 4:00 PM
A Dolgopolov (UKR) / X Malisse (BEL) vs R Federer (SUI) / S Wawrinka (SUI) – ATP – DOUBLES FINAL
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