After a week of surprises, the end result of the Indian Wells men’s draw wasn’t much of a surprise at all. It’s 5-time champion Roger Federer against 2013 finalist Juan Martin Del Potro.
Federer almost didn’t make it, and maybe shouldn’t have.
Federer shook off a break deficit in the second and third sets to deny Borna Coric 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in a tight semifinal. The 21-year-old Coric, who was playing the biggest semifinal of his career, was cruising on serve early, hardly being pressed. But then came the pressure and things changed. Serving up 4-3 in the second, Coric fell apart just points from the finish line.
Federer, who had been a tad off with his game – maybe it was the rare 11am start – sharpened his game, broke Coric, then held and broke again to force the decider.
The crowd approved and with the Swiss serving to start the third, it seemed like order was restored. But Federer surrendered a quick break at love, then fell in another 4-3 hole. But he did it again.
Coric served 4-3 30-all and also at deuce, but he would never get that close to the final again. Federer seized the moment, sensed the Coric’s tightness and ran off the final 11 points to up his start to the year to a personal best 17-0.
“I had to fight a little bit just to keep the ball in play,” said Federer after his 10th straight Indian Wells match win. “I tried not to do too much shot-making because it was difficult in the wind and Borna was incredibly steady. He was playing deep, with hard shots. It was tough to do anything.
“When he was up a set and a break, it was tough for me to accept and move on and just be happy to stay in the game, stay in the rallies with nothing fancy and maybe he would get a little nervous, and I think that’s exactly what happened. I got a little bit lucky, too.”
After some shortcomings the last few years, Coric is starting to look the part and maybe he becomes a factor going forward. Though I do question his ability to win close matches – like today – and he needs to get more consistent and develop at least one major weapon. But he’s on the right path.
“I was really surprised how well I played, how much pressure I was putting on him, and I was also enjoying it,” Coric said. “I think I was pushing him to the limits. He pushed me to the limits, for sure.
“I need to look at it from the positive side definitely, just the whole tournament, and this match, as well. I played a great match. I was very close. I just didn’t take all the chances.”
The second semifinal was a complete duck. Del Potro destroyed a listless Milos Raonic 6-3, 6-2 to win his 400th career match and earn a spot in his second Indian Wells final. But it didn’t even feel that close.
Delpo broke in the Canadian’s second service game and coasted from their with barely any resistance. It was a much-needed quick match for the Argentine who has played a lot of tennis recently – he’s won 10 straight – and had a tough 3-set win Friday over Phil Kohlschreiber.
“It was surprising to see him serving not too hard, and I broke his serve very quick in both sets. That give me the control of the match,” said Delpo. “I played a smart match, because the conditions were tough to play in. I served well. I took all my chances. It was an easier match than what I expected.”
As for Raonic, at least he’s healthy, but there’s just not a lot of fire there. There’s a lot of coaches, but where’s that spark in his eyes? I don’t really see it.
“I was trying to find a groove, but when you haven’t played for a while, you already are overthinking a lot of things,” said Raonic. “And then, with the wind, you’re not sure. You don’t have that calm and ease about going through things and figuring things out on the fly.”
So the final is set…
Roger Federer v Juan Martin Del Potro
Well, I picked Federer to beat Delpo in the final at the start, and I don’t see a reason to switch now, though Delpo could certainly win it. That wouldn’t surprise me.
He’s beaten Roger a few times on the hard courts in the U.S., namely twice at the US Open. But these courts at Indian Wells are much slower and my guess is Federer will get the big man moving around and out of his comfort zone early and often, attacking the weaker backhand.
Of course if Del Potro is in the zone, he’ll take anyone of their comfort zone so with that awesome power, the match is on his racquet.
Federer leads 18-6 winning the last two, but Delpo has taken a set in their last three including that US Open stunner. And I think we get another 3-setter here.
“We’ve had a lot of close matches,” said Federer. “Big matches, close matches…I think we have an interesting matchup. We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time.”
And when Delpo is in full flight, he’s virtually unplayable. The question is, will he be? There’s no way to know. I will say, it’s fantastic to have him playing top tennis again!
“Roger is the favorite to win,” Del Potro said. “I would love to repeat my win from the US Open 10 years ago. But it means a lot play against Roger. He’s a friend of mine. I admire him a lot. He shows the greatest sportsmanship on tour. It’s an honor for me to play a final against him.”
As I said, a quick, easy match today was key for Delpo so that will help.
Serving will be key. If Federer serves well, he should get a look somewhere at a break of the Delpo serve – his return is better the Delpo’s. But if it’s off, Delpo will feast.
And let’s not forget that is a huge match for Del Potro. The guy hasn’t won any title this big – never won a Masters – since his wrist surgery and since that 2009 US Open, which also was a win over Federer.
So in a very close match, I just think the experience and the momentum get Federer through. Delpo struggled with Kohlschreiber and Federer is a much, much better version of the German.
The Pick: Federer in 3
ESPN will have the match live at 4pm following the 2pm women’s final between the Cinderallas Daria Kasatkina and Naomi Osaka – what a crazy women’s event, that’s some real March Madness!
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