The 2014 PNB Paribas Open at Indian Wells was riddled with upsets and surprising results. And yet, at the end of it all, the finals match-up between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer was anything but surprising. Djokovic has been one of the best hard court players in the world over the past several seasons. Meanwhile, Federer’s hard court form has been outstanding throughout his historic career and showed signs of vintage form in winning Dubai two weeks ago.
The upsets in 2014 came early and often at Indian Wells; by the fourth round, half of the top ten seeds had been eliminated and two more would fall that round. Many of the upsets were seemingly inexplicable: top seed and defending champion, Rafael Nadal, lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov, against whom Nadal had never even lost a set. Fourth seed, Tomas Berdych, was bested by Roberto Bautista Agut, a man ranked nearly fifty spots behind Berdych in the rankings. Then, ninth seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was routinely dispatched by French journeyman Julien Benneteau.
Yet, for all these upsets, the two best players in the field ultimately found themselves meeting for the title. Federer, whose form the past few weeks has been extremely impressive, blasted his way to the finals without dropping a set. Meanwhile, Djokovic was forced to go the distance in three of his five matches but was able to find a way to win despite his less than stellar play.
Indian Wells remains an event utterly dominated by the top ATP stars. In the past ten years, the trio of Federer, Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal have won nine titles in the southern California desert (the lone exception being Ivan Ljubicic in 2010). Yesterday, it saw two of these men battle for the championship yet again in what was the thirty-third encounter between Federer and Djokovic.
Federer raced out to an early lead in the opening set by playing the kind of aggressive and confident tennis that saw him crowned champion in Dubai. Djokovic got to 30-all at 4-2 but clutch serving got Federer out of danger and to a 5-2 lead. The Swiss master served and volleyed effectively the entire set and his aggressive baseline play off both wings kept Djokovic on his heels as he held to love and claim the opening set 6-3.
The second set remained on serve until the eighth game, when Djokovic elevated his return play and broke Federer for a 5-3 lead. Moments later Djokovic held serve and leveled the match to send the Indian Wells final to a deciding set for the fourth time in the past five years.
The final set began with both men in top form as each raised their game and sought to establish an immediate advantage. In a lengthy opening game, Federer was able to fight off a break point and hold serve. However, it would be Djokovic who would gain the advantage in the final set, breaking for a 2-1 lead behind his signature deep returning and powerful baseline game. The Serb would hold his nerve, and his serve, until the very last moment. For the second day in a row, Djokovic found himself serving for the match at 5-4; against John Isner in the semifinals, Djokovic was broken and would lose the ensuing tiebreak before finally prevailing in a third set. An eerie sense of déjà vu engulfed Stadium 1 in the final and Djokovic played a tense game, Federer’s aggression finally paying dividends as he broke for the first time since the opening set to stay alive and keep his hopes of a fifth title in the southern California desert intact.
Both men would hold their subsequent service games to send the finals into a tiebreak for the championship. With two of the best tiebreak win percentages on tour, Djokovic and Federer came into the final stage confident. However, it was Djokovic who was clearly the superior player in the tiebreak; his consistency contrasted sharply with Federer, who had several unforced errors and struggled to find the court throughout. In the end, Djokovic prevailed 7-3 and claimed his third title at Indian Wells.
The win was a big one for the World Number 2 and was his first title of 2014; he has had trouble closing out matches this season and after failing to serve out this match against Federer at 5-4 in the third set, Djokovic’s response in the tiebreak was impressive. He next heads to Miami for the Sony Ericsson Open, an event he has won three times but where he lost in the fourth round last year.
Meanwhile, the loss was a tough one for Federer, who worked hard to get back into the match before playing a disappointing final set tiebreak that was riddled with errors. Yet, despite the loss, Federer’s run in Indian Wells was a testament to his ongoing commitment to a more aggressive and attacking style of play. Throughout the event, and for stretches in the final, Federer displayed a renewed confidence and competitive fire that have reaffirmed his place amongst the ATP’s very best.
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