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Tebbutt: Desert Grand Finales

Mar 20, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt

The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells ranks high among the tennis experiences in any given year. It has the advantage of being in a place – the Coachella Valley in the California desert – that almost guarantees good weather and has an owner, Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who reportedly has put close to half a billion dollars into the tournament since he bought it in 2009.

With a site that’s spacious and beautifully landscaped, the Indian Wells Tennis Garden annually hosts the crème de la crème of tennis players in the month of March.

This year’s event culminated with three days of contrasting results. One women’s semi-final was a thriller – Daria Kasatkina edging Venus Williams 4-6, 6-4,7-5 – and the other one-sided as Naomi Osaka demolished Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 before doing the same to Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the final.

On the men’s side, Roger Federer had to fight tooth and nail to get past a red-hot Borna Coric 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in one semi-final while in the other Juan Martin del Potro never let Milos Raonic really get going in a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

Unlike the women’s final, the men’s was a classic as del Potro saved three championship points to win the first Masters 1000 title of his career 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(2).

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Del Potro is now 7-18 versus Federer, which means he has the sixth most victories against the great Swiss behind Rafael Nadal (23), Novak Djokovic (23), Andy Murray (11) Lleyton Hewitt (9) and David Nalbandian (8). And that’s with three lost years – 2010 (six), 2014 (10) and 2015 (four) – when wrist problems severely limited the number of matches he played.

His ranking has moved up to No. 6 after Sunday’s win and few would argue that among the fit, in-form players currently on tour he poses the greatest threat to Federer dominance.

Fans of the 36-year-old Swiss will be disappointed their guy didn’t manage to win Sunday’s final after having three championship points – and all three on his own serve. They may despair because this is the third time in 13 months that he has failed to seal the deal after having match point (or points) – two against Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai in February 2017, one against Tommy Haas in Stuttgart last June and three against del Potro in the Indian Wells final.

But that’s no big deal – the Donskoy loss was at Federer’s first tournament after his hugely emotional win at the 2017 Aussie Open (and he won his next two events in Indian Wells and Miami) and Haas was after a 73-day layoff when he skipped the clay-court season (and he won his next two events in Halle and at Wimbledon).

As for del Potro on Sunday, the big Argentine is always capable of knocking off the very best – e.g. at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro he beat both Djokovic and Nadal on his way to a silver medal.

There was one year, 2010, when Federer was genuinely snake-bit by unconverted match points in losses.

Here’s the list:

Indian Wells – R32: Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 7-6(4) 3 MPs.

Miami – R16: Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) 1 MP

US Open – SF: Novak Djokovic 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 2 MPs

Paris-Bercy – SF: Gael Monfils 7-6(7), 6-7(1), 7-6(4) 5 MPs.

He survived that year, finishing No. 2, and has since avoided any kind of repetition of that kind of misfortune.

It’s interesting to note that he has been beaten four times in a Grand Slam after failing to convert a match point (points) – the 2002 Aussie Open round-of-16 (1MP) vs. Tommy Haas, the 2005 Aussie Open semi-final (1MP) vs. Marat Safin, the 2010 US Open semi-final (2MPs) vs. Djokovic and the 2011 US Open semi-final (2 MPs) vs. Djokovic.

As well, in the 20 Grand Slam titles Federer has won, never has he had to save a match point on his way to the title.

“I feel frustrated that I let an opportunity like this go by,” Federer said Sunday about the three championship points against del Potro. “Serving 40-15, any game I

probably win, I don’t know what the stat is – 90-something percent. “So it should sting for a bit. The question is how long? It won’t be long but it’s disappointing talking about a great match like this, losing, even though I was right there.”

Naomi Osaka (doing pre-match stretching above) would not have been viewed as a likely Indian Wells champion at the beginning of this year’s event. Although if 30-year-old Elena Vesnina could win the 2017 title, the 20-year-old Japanese winning wasn’t so improbable. And even less so after she upset Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.

The 5-foot-11 daughter of a Japanese mother and a Haitian father then proceeded to beat Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Maria Sakkari, Karolina Pliskova and Halep to reach her first WTA final. She has always been a power player but appears to have harnessed some of that power under the guidance of her new coach Sascha Bajin, who has worked with Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki but is best known as Serena Williams’ the long-time hitting partner.

Amazingly after her breakthrough at one of the WTA’s four Premier Mandatory events, Osaka will now play Williams (Serena) in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday. The WTA elected to do the draw for the Miami Open on Sunday – meaning it didn’t have this week’s rankings which came out on Monday. So Osaka, who jumped from No. 44 to No. 22 with her title in Indian Wells, was not among the 32 seeded players. If this week’s rankings had been used, she would had been seeded and had a first-round bye and not been able to face Williams – a worst-case scenario – until at least the second round.

It sure seems like an odd decision by the WTA or the tournament or whomever to choose Sunday as the day to do the draw. The men’s draw wasn’t conducted until Monday. Meaning its seedings are from the latest ATP rankings released Monday.

It’s not only bad news that Osaka and Williams will face each other in the first round – but the winner will play No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina in the second.

Better news for Osaka was the healthy winner’s prize money at the BNP Paribas Open. She entered 2018 with $1,234,908 in career prize money and more than doubled that with the $1,340,806 winner’s cheque in Indian Wells.

She had been regaling the media in Indian Wells throughout the tournament with her infectious humour and candour. On Sunday she kind of giggled as she described the moment of victory against Kasatkina, “I didn’t know that I won the match point,” she said, “so then I was sort of like Caveman SpongeBob.”

For those not familiar – this is what Caveman SpongeBob looks like.

Osaka and Kasatkina, who was impressive in beating Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki, Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams one after the other to make the final, are fresh new personalities for women’s tennis. While it doesn’t seem like 37-year-old Venus or 36-year-old Serena are about to depart the scene anytime soon, Osaka, Kasatkina, 20, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, 20, as well as prodigies such as 16-year-old American Amanda Anisimova, who made the round-of-16 in Indian Wells, and 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, who won through the qualifying and two rounds at the 2018 Australian Open before losing to countrywoman Svitolina, are part of a wave of renewal in the women’s game.

ON TO MIAMI

The second of the annual Sunshine Double – Indian Wells and Miami – began on Monday with qualifying in the south Florida city.

Five of the six Canadians in action – Francoise Abanda, Genie Bouchard, Peter Polansky, Filip Peliwo and Carol Zhao (above) all made it to Tuesday’s second and final round of qualifying.

The only downer on day one was 17-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime losing a tough one – 3-6, 6-2, 7-6(6) to No. 143-ranked Mackenzie McDonald, 22, of the U.S.

There are three players in the main draw – No. 20 seed Milos Raonic has a bye before facing the winner of No. 56 Jan-Lennard Struff and No. 407-ranked Swedish wild card Mikael Ymer, 19, with possibly 13th-seeded Diego Schwartzman waiting in the third round. Raonic jumped from No. 38 to No. 25 with his semi-final at the BNP Paribas Open last week. His best result in Miami is a quarter-final in 2016.

Photo by: Mauricio Paiz

Denis Shapovalov, playing in the ninth Masters 1000 of his young career, will start out against 32-year-old Serbian veteran Viktor Troicki, now ranked No. 68. A win and he would play No. 24 seed Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina and then possibly No. 11 seed Sam Querrey.

Vasek Pospisil is in his fourth Miami Open main draw and has twice reached the second round – 2015 and 2016. Both times he beat Argentines – Juan Martin del Potro in 2015 and Diego Schwartzman in 2016. This year he plays No. 79-ranked Ivo Karlovic. Pospisil leads their head-to-head 3-1 – after a loss in Newport in 2013, he has beaten the 39-year-old Croat in Basel (2013), Auckland (2016) and Shanghai (2016), each time in straight sets. If Pospisil advances, he will face No. 27 seed Andrey Rublev and then possibly the second seed Marin Cilic.

TSN’s coverage of the men’s event begins at 11 a.m. ET on Wednesday on TSN2.

BJORN&FILA – TOGETHER AGAIN

It was one of the most iconic athlete/clothing manufacturer combinations in the history of sport – Bjorn Borg and FILA.

The great Swede won six French Opens and five Wimbledons between 1974 and 1981 – all but one of them while wearing the distinctive Italian brand.

On Monday, Borg, 61, reunited with FILA – signing an endorsement contract in Stockholm with Gene Yoon, FILA’s Global chairman.

This is what the incredibly athletic Borg, comparable to Rafael Nadal today, looked like in his heyday wearing FILA.

POST CARD

The horrific shooting of 58 people in Las Vegas at a music festival on October 1 was a devastating blow for the city. Driving through Las Vegas last week, the back window of this car spoke volumes about the resolve of its citizens.

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