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Wow, what a difference a year makes. Even Roger Federer admitted he was a bit surprised to win the title this weekend in Indian Wells, especially after fighting through fever and a flu earlier in the tournament. But he hung tough, and overcame his sickness and a rough draw. Today’s win over John Isner was a fabulous achievement, earning Roger his 19th Masters title (tying him with Rafa for most ever) and a record setting 4th BNP Paribas title. The title is great, but the semifinal win over Rafa, his toughest rival, means just as much. It shows that Roger may not need that elusive “lucky” draw to win another major – he can still make greatness happen on his own terms.
“This year I decided I wanted to play a bit more,” Federer said (via USA Today). “If things went great, I knew I could be on a great run coming into Indian Wells and Miami. That’s exactly what happened. I’m a bit surprised it’s all gone that well.”
Roger did a fantastic job this week of controlling his errors, snagging those break point opportunities and modulating the lows and lulls in his game. His play this week reminded me more of his “glory days” of 2005-2006 than it did of his play, say, last season. Roger touched on this in his post match comments (via the ATP):
“When it all pays off after a bit of a scare early on in the week and you get the title and the emotions are going, it’s a wonderful feeling,” he said. “I remember the days when I won three years in a row here, and I enjoyed myself over here.
“It’s been a long time since I have been this successful here, even though I have had some really good matches here in the past, but it’s nice taking it all the way and getting victories. I was just really happy and not relieved because I was just extremely proud of my performance this week.”
I’m not sure why, exactly, things are clicking for him at the moment (three straight titles, a 15 match winning streak, winning 39 or his last 41 matches, etc.) but the mystery doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. He’s shut up the critics and put the retirement watchers on an indefinite leave of absence. (“Some don’t understand how you can play tennis at 30, which is shocking to me,” he said today.) This is more than a hot flash, this is the kind of stuff that makes players five years his junior green with envy.
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Take John Isner, who at the ripe old age of 26 is just now entering a new echelon. His performance this week earned him a spot in his first ATP 1000 level final and a place in the ATP’s Top 10. It’s exciting to see a guy with so much heart and talent finally putting it all together. And of course, I’m happy to see an American rise.
It was also nice to see Isner return to court after the singles final to play Rafael Nadal/Marc Lopez for the doubles title with partner Sam Querrey. Indian Wells has some of the best doubles competition of the year, and today’s final was entertaining and hard fought, with the Spaniards winning . Kudos to Rafa for winning the eighth doubles title of his career. He and Lopez ain’t no novelty act, they’re a great doubles duo! I wonder if they could play together in the Olympics?
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Victoria Azarenka won the title on the women’s side, in a redo of her Australian Open final vs. Maria Sharapova. Maria fared a little better this time, winning two more games than she did Down Under but still losing the match 2-6, 3-6. I’ve seen Maria take some bad losses before, but losing in such a one-sided fashion two times in a row to someone who isn’t packing the firepower of a Serena Williams or Lindsay Davenport is a bit troubling, especially now that Maria is No. 2 in the world and presumably playing at her best. Fans can only take Azarenka’s own post-match comments to heart: “I know Maria is a fighter though, so I know I can’t relax even a little bit. If she has a window she’ll take it, so I had to be aggressive and keep the pressure on.”
Maria Sharapova of all people, has morphed into the loveable underdog. Victoria Azarenka is now the unbeatable (23-0 for the season) and undisputed “real” No. 1 in the world, but still far from loveable. While she has looks, passion and personality, she’s just not easy to connect with. I find myself comparing her with Ivan Lendl in the warm and fuzzy category. Maria, for all her ice queen behavior, still has some vulnerability and charm. Azarenka, well, we’ll have plenty of time to get to know her. And if we don’t warm up to her, well, something tells me she won’t give a flying — ! And in a way, that’s something to admire.
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What is it with streaks this week? Doubles team Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond won their 16th straight match and fourth tournament of the season last night, beating Sania Mirza and Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-3.
Indian Wells is over, at long last. I love how the tournament drags a bit. It has a relaxed pace that both the players and the fans seem to enjoy. Now it’s on to Miami, where things always seem to move a bit faster. The tennis caravan moves on. . .