So much for the “changing of the guard”! The men’s Sunday Funday final once again features two very familiar names starring in the very familiar role of winning titles at big events as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic lock up for the 33rd time in the desert later today.
At the start of the tournament, thanks to great draw I had Djokovic in this spot, but not Federer who I didn’t think would get past his nemesis Rafael Nadal. But Alexandr Dolgopolov did him the favor of knocking out Nadal – no wonder Federer speaks so highly of the Ukraine! – and the Swiss’s path cleared.
Yesterday, Roger took full advantage hammering Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-1. For all his awkwardness, Dolgopolov was never in the match and Roger, just like he should, took care of business swiftly and efficiently.
The same cannot be said for Djokovic, however. The Serb not once but TWICE served for the match in that second set and FAILED! And this was against John Isner, one of worst returners the sport has ever seen, yet here was the mighty Djokovic unable to serve it out given TWO tries.
Djokovic then of course got squashed in the breaker but then overwhelmed a knee-troubled Isner in the decider 7-5, 6-7, 6-1.
“I thought I returned really well today and allowed myself to have a bunch of opportunities on his service games,” said Djokovic. “Then twice I had chance to finish it out and I played two bad games and he played an incredible tiebreaker. And when you get to the tiebreaker with John Isner, whoever you are, you’re not a favorite. I just tried to hang in there, stay mentally tough when I lost the second set, and played a great third.”
Novak returned great, but geez, how do you get broken by John like that in the second set?
With that as the backdrop, let’s look at the finale.
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
Federer leads this one 17-15 but really it’s about as even as it can be. Roger leads 13-12 on hardcourts, in finals it’s 4-4, etc. There’s just not much separating these two. It’s a true “rivalry”.
“Whenever we play each other it’s always a huge challenge for both of us and very few points can decide the winner,” said Djokovic yesterday. “I do not expect anything less tomorrow. I just hope for myself that I will be able to perform on a high level, because I’m going to need to do that in order to get a chance to win against him.”
Added Federer, “I think we have had great matches always. I think we have played here as well before, if I’m not mistaken,” said Federer. “So it’s one of those matches I think we both know what to expect going into, and even more so maybe now that we have just played in Dubai and also in Paris and London at the end of last year.
“I think he really wants it, and that’s going to be a challenge for me to accept that and fight that with good play myself.”
Federer got him two weekends ago in Dubai and while the air conditions at Indian Wells may be the similar the court isn’t. It’s much slower and grittier than Dubai and that, I think, should help Djokovic here.
But is he playing well enough to take advantage?
We know where Federer is at. With the back healed and now greater comfort with the larger racquet, Federer’s playing his best tennis since the summer of 2012 when he won Wimbledon and Cincinnati. There’s no argument.
Roger’s won his last 11 matches and hasn’t dropped a single set at the event. And he’s never lost in four prior appearances in the Indian Wells final. Everything really seems to be clicking.
Not so for Novak who just continues to struggle. He seems mired in fits of patchy play as we saw again yesterday. And after gagging like that against Isner, confidence-wise, even though he won the match he had to have more confidence in his game yesterday when he woke up than he does this today.
So for me this pick is easy. Federer’s clearly got the momentum and the confidence, two things Djokovic really doesn’t have. But Novak might have the slight edge in motivation. As I’ve been saying all week, no one needs this title more than Novak. Unfortunately, if you can’t serve out Isner TWICE, how are you going to do it against Federer? I just can’t get over that. However, if he brings his “A” game Djokovic can win and probably should, but I nothing I’ve seen this year tells me he has it.
The pick: Federer in three
The earlier women’s final pits surprise finalist Flavia Pennetta against Agnieszka Radwanska. They too just played last month in Dubai and the Italian won. Pennetta is the hotter player but Radwanska is so steady, so sharp and that makes this a real mess to pick. In a real toss up I’ll take the higher ranked Radwanska who’s simply had more experience in this stage before.
The women’s final starts at 3pm ET on ESPN2. The men’s final will also be on ESPN2 at 5pm ET.
SUNDAY INDIAN WELLS SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 start 12:00 noon
WTA – SINGLES FINAL –  F Pennetta (ITA) vs  A Radwanska (POL)
Not Before 2:00 pm
ATP – SINGLES FINAL –  R Federer (SUI) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
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