After days of mayhem, things settled down on semifinal Saturday at Indian Wells, as form finally held. Both Swiss players dominated, more or less, to advance to the first all-Swiss final at a hardcourt Masters.
Wawrinka was up first against the surprise of the tournament, Pablo Carreno Busta. The hard-hitting 25-year-old Spaniard had caught fire since Australia reaching his fourth straight semifinal and his first at the Masters level this week. And he started off pretty well hanging in against Wawrinka who needed consecutive third set tiebreakers just to get to the weekend.
Stan, though, eventually found the mark as the Carreno Busta’s shots began to fade and become less effective. Wawrinka dialed in, never dropped served and pulled away from 3-3 in the first to win it 6-3, 6-2.
“It’s an amazing result to be in the final here, especially in Indian Wells, one of the best Masters 1000,” said Wawrinka who lost just three points on serve in the second. “I am really happy with the way I’m playing.”
After nearly getting sent packing by “lucky loser” Yoshihito Nishioka on Wednesday, the win was a welcome relief for Wawrinka.
“Most of the time I know when I start to win the matches in the tournament, I start to get confidence, the good feeling with the ball,” Wawrinka said. “I know I play better and better.”
And today Stan played like he’s built: Rock solid. He never even faced a break point.
Carreno Busta had the tournament of his life, and maybe now that he’s cracked the Top 20, he’ll live up to the billing as one of the next top players from Spain.
Federer was up next trying to keep the all-Swiss dream alive and reach his first Masters final since 2015 Cincinnati. And early on against Jack Sock it looked like a foregone conclusion.
Federer picked right up where he left off in his win over Rafael Nadal, blitzing Sock who was in his first Masters semifinal.
With all pistons firing, Federer blitzed Sock in teh first with barely a sweat in a 6-1 21-minute first set.
After a potty break, Sock found some form immediately in the second, and it became a match. Sock finally got some forehands which he fired to Federer’s backhand, and he began to dictate…a little. But not enough.
Federer was still flawless on his serve as Sock finished the afternoon without seeing a single break point.
But Sock was also holding comfortably as the two headed for the breaker. Sock got the early mini-break to lead 3-1 and then, just as there was some light for the American, Federer closed the curtains winning six of the last seven points to take a 6-1, 7-6(4) victory and reach his seventh Indian Wells final, and Novak Djokovic-tying 43rd overall Masters final.
“I definitely played great in the first set. I came out and really saw the ball well… The second set was more like what I expected the first set to be, to be quite honest, before the match. It was hard to break and return well off Jack’s heavy serve,” Federer said. “Things got a bit more complicated, but it was definitely a good feeling to get through in two sets and to be back in another final here.”
As for Sock, like Carreno Busta, he too showed signs this week of becoming a Top 10 threat.
“I have a clear picture of what I want to do when I go out on court,” said Sock who saved four matchpoints in a Wednesday win. “I’m going to go out and play on my terms, win or lose. If I win, it’s amazing, move on to the next round. If I lose, I’m OK with going out and playing how I want to play.
“In the past, I’d be going out and if I lost, it’d be because the other guy got in my way or got in my head. Now I feel like I’m going out and playing relaxed, calm tennis, but on my terms.”
And he’ll have another chance at a Masters final, maybe many more.
So on to the final…
Roger Federer v Stan Wawrinka
At the start of the tournament I picked Federer to win it. I don’t see any compelling reason to change now.
Federer leads Stan 19-3 having won the last three including the Australian Open semifinals in January. And most importantly, Federer 14-0 against Stan on hardcourts. To me, that’s the difference here.
Fed’s in Stan’s head. And he’s also playing top-flight tennis, serving well, ripping his ground strokes and moving effortlessly. Call it talent, blame it on the larger racquet. Whatever. Roger’s playing great but Stan’s a different match that a Sock or a Nadal.
“He does a really nice job of defending and then creating, going from defense to offense. He’s improved his serve. Especially as he goes deeper in the tournament, his confidence builds. That’s when he’s harder to stop,” Federer said of Wawrinka. “I have variation. I have an offensive mindset that’s in my DNA. Sometimes for a player like Stan, he likes to have a bit more time and I can maybe rush him. But we’ll see if that’s possible tomorrow.”
And if Roger does jump out early with a quick break, that will pset the pace.
Stan played great today and he’s a big match player, we know. And if it were anyone else like an Andy Murray or a Novak Djokovic in this final, maybe I pick Stan. But just with the way Roger’s been playing and that fact that it’s hardcourts and the 14-0 advantage on the surface, I just have to stay with Roger here.
With everything pointing to Federer, could Stan pull the upset? He could. Some would say he should, after all he’s the more powerful player and the court should be good for him. And to do it Stan will have to continue to serve well like he did today and not have any lapses like we’ve seen earlier in the week. This is best-of-3, not best-of-5 so there’s less margin for error, less time to work your way back in, and that works against Stan.
So to me, Federer just looks so at ease, so carefree out there. Just amazing.
The Pick: Federer in 2
ESPN has live coverage of the women’s final between Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova at 2pm ET followed by the men’s championship match.
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