Boy did Novak Djokovic need that Indian Wells title. After a rather shaky start to the season it was just what the doctor ordered. In an enthralling final, Djokovic edged Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) to win his third straight Masters Series event.
The match wrapped up a 10 days of thrills and spills from the desert. And as we wind halfway through Tennis’s version of March Madness, here are some thoughts:
1. Novak Djokovic Relief
As I said all week no one needed to win Indian Wells more than Djokovic. And not just to silence the anti-Becker talk (though the German was not there, so does it even count?) but more for his confidence.
He had to have it and against the odds – down a set to Federer and then gagging in his attempt to serve it out – he masterfully pulled out that final set breaker playing an exceptionally high level of tennis exactly when he needed.
And while he again choked at 5-4, this win should do him a world of good. And I think maybe this “clicks” and we start seeing that form from last fall. I fully expect to see him play much better in Miami this weekend.
2. True Rivalry
Djokovic’s win closes him within one of Federer in their series. Federer still leads 17-16 but this thing is even closer than that. And closer than the one-sided Nadal-Federer (23-10), Nadal-Djokovic (22-17) or even Murray-Federer (Murray leads 11-10 but it doesn’t feel that way, does it?).
So while Federer-Nadal, Nadal-Djokovic get all the attention, this rivalry hasn’t been too bad either and through the years has produced some pretty good drama as we saw yesterday.
What a charmed era we live in!
3. Federer Back
If there was any doubt of where Federer’s game is at, I think Indian Wells should have put that to rest. Federer made the finals without losing a set and at times against Djokovic the 32-year-old father of two looked 25 again – there was one point where he absolutely ripped a breathtaking angle off his backhand, then finished the point off with the forehand winner to the open court, wow!
The back injury we visibly saw 12 months is gone and that’s allowing him to move as beautifully as ever.
Sure, his strokes broke down in the third and on the grittier Indian Wells court it’s treacherous to move forward as much as he would have liked, but it was a still a great week.
Despite the loss, things are definitely going in the right direction for Roger. The trend is up.
4. Nadal The Back Patient?
While Federer showed his back is back to 100% for now, Nadal’s back is…??
If you were watching Tennis Channel I think it was Jim Courier who opined Nadal’s back didn’t look quite right during his loss to Dolgopolov. And even more disconcerting is that Brett Haber or maybe it was someone else referenced the old axiom, “once a back patient, always a back patient”. There’s truth in that.
With another week of pounding away on the hardcourts in Miami, and then the all-important clay season looming, Nadal better hope that back isn’t susceptible to further maladies.
Remember Rafa will turn 28 during the French, and it’s an old 28 people.
That said, if it is still that big of a problem – it’s been six weeks since the injury in Melbourne – maybe skipping Miami to be 1000% ready for the clay is the the smarter course.
Whatever it is, as I said before Nadal’s already suffered set losses to Gojowycz, Monfils, Andujar, Dimitrov, Stepanek and a now loss to Dolgopolov. So things just don’t look right with him in general this season.
5. Where’s Murray’s Magic?
Speaking of back injuries, Murray had surgery on his in September. After playing a bunch of events already this year and playing well in some, how much longer do we give him a “pass” for the injury?
Is he ok, is he still suffering, when will he be fit again?
These questions keep popping up during and after every one of matches! So I ask what’s the expiration on this?
I’ve never had back surgery (knock on wood) so I can’t really speak from a physical standpoint what’s it’s like to comeback from one, but he’s been playing a heavy schedule from Jan 1 and did a training block well before that. So is he fit NOW? Or is he just no longer the players we this he is?
Regardless, he’s up for a title defense in Miami later this week. He better be in shape.
6. The Future Is Not Now
With all the talk of this next generation and of all the hope that Stan Wawrinka supposedly gave to those lower tier players in the locker room, in the end at Indian Wells when the desert dust settled it was still two of the Big Four once again playing for the title.
That makes it 27 of the last 28 Masters Series events going their away, the exception being David Ferrer in Paris a few years ago.
Eventually it will change, but when? Maybe next year.
7. Women’s Tennis Is A Hot Mess
What a great comeback story for Flavia Pennetta winning Indian Wells a year after thinking about hanging it up. The 32-year-old likeable Italian beat two Top 3 players en route to the biggest title of her career.
That said, geez is women’s tennis a mess right now. Without Serena it certainly felt like there was a lull over the event (Li Na as a No. 1 seed just didn’t look right!). Then corporate-queen Maria Sharapova early exited, Azarenka’s still injured, the young American’s fizzled and honestly, the matches were hard to watch and then we had to sit through the Radwanska injury in the final.
Like a pair of dice, if could “roll” that women’s draw 10 times I’d bet you’d end up with 10 different winners. This roll came up Pennetta, so good for her.
Serena does return in Miami which should restore some order. But she’s no spring chicken at 32.
Miami begins this Wednesday with both men and women. And the draws are out. I’ll just do a post on that now.
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