The sun has set on another BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and with it another name has been added to the list of men’s champions visible lower right in the picture here.

That name is Roger Federer, winning for the fifth time but his first since 2012, which parallels the Australian Open in January, his first Grand Slam title since that same year.

Federer’s remarkable performances in Indian Wells were something of a time warp – instead of playing like a guy who missed the last five months of the 2016 season and is more than halfway to his 36th birthday, the sublime Swiss seems a reincarnation of himself circa 2004-2007. Those were four consecutive years when he had single-digit losses for the entire season.

As much as Federer put in the hard yards off the tour rehabbing his left knee in the second half of 2016, it’s his mental strength that’s likely most responsible for his superb form this year. He certainly got breaks at the Australian Open when both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were upset in the first week, but he still had to beat tough opponents – including top-tenners Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal – to win his 18th Grand Slam title.

A good example of Federer’s mental strength was his rebound at Indian Wells. There were no signs of leftover effects of an inglorious 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) loss to No. 116 Evgeny Donskoy, after holding three match points, at his previous event in Dubai.

And right from the beginning he looked on the positive side of arguably the most lopsided draw in history – himself, world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, No. 6 Nadal, No. 31 Juan Martin del Potro as well as the two most promising young players – No. 16 Nick Kyrgios and No. 20 Alexander Zverev – all in the same quarter.

During pre-tournament round-tables with the media after the ‘stacked’ bottom quarter of the draw had been revealed, Federer straight-talked that he had come to Indian Wells “to play the best players” and even downplayed the potential difficulty ahead by noting that he had faced Marat Safin in the very first round in Dubai in 2004 right after he had beaten the Russian in the final of the Australian Open just weeks earlier. By comparison, No. 81 Stéphane Robert (score 6-2, 6-1) in his opening round in Indian Wells turned out to be not so bad.

Before playing the final, which he won 6-4, 7-5 over No. 3-ranked Stan Wawrinka, Federer philosophized about that so-called “quarter of death” saying “from looking at that section of the draw as like a mountain to climb, next thing you know you’re in the finals and flying.
“It’s very fascinating how quick things can turn your way if you play well and you believe and you’re having a good time.”

Federer’s equable temperament is obviously central to his success. He has made being 35 and having experienced a lot into a positive – who can forget the nadir when back problems led to consecutive losses in the summer of 2013 in Hamburg and Gstaad to No. 114 Federico Delbonis and No. 55 Daniel Brands? He has since shown an exceptional ability to persevere and thrive.

Leading the ATP 2017 (points) Race with 3,045 ahead of No. 2 Nadal at 1,635 – not to mention No. 10 Murray with 840 and No. 18 Novak Djokovic with 475 – Federer is indisputably the best player in the world at the moment. And Murray and Djokovic will gain no ground at this week’s Miami Open because they are not playing.

With that in mind – and definitely getting ahead of ourselves – he has to be the favourite for Wimbledon. But the London-based betting firm Ladbrokes doesn’t quite see it that way – their odds are Murray 2/1, Djokovic 9/4, Federer 9/2 (down from 6/1 two days ago). So maybe Federer punters can still get in while the getting’s good.


On to Miami

The Miami Open follows on the heels of the BNP Paribas Open and will lack star power with Andy Murray (elbow), Novak Djokovic (elbow) and Serena Williams (knee) absent – meaning shaky No. 1 Angelique Kerber is the only one of the female and male top-ranked duos present in Miami.

From the Canadian perspective, Genie Bouchard will try to get back on track but faces a stern test in Ashleigh Barty in the opening round. The 20-year-old Aussie won the Wimbledon Junior Girls title at 15 in 2011 (a year before Bouchard) but grew unhappy with the tennis life in late 2014 and took a year-and-a-half break while she played some professional cricket. She returned to tennis early in 2016 and is back with a vengeance, winning her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month as a qualifier. She has a 12-3 record for the year and has made the largest rankings jump so far in 2017 – 234 spots from No. 325 to No. 91. Bouchard is No. 56 and has a more modest 5-5 record so far in 2017. A year ago she was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the first round in Miami by Lucie Hradecka.

The Bouchard – Barty winner will face No. 19-ranked Samantha Stosur in the second round.

Credit: Mauricio Paiz

In the men’s event, Milos Raonic, now ranked No. 5, returns to action after missing Indian Wells with a right hamstring injury. Seeded No. 3, he has a bye before playing either No. 38 Viktor Troicki, 31, of Serbia or No. 82 Thiago Monteiro, 22, of Brazil. Beyond that Raonic could play Kyle Edmund or Mischa Zverev in the third round and possibly Jack Sock in the round-of-16.

If form holds, Raonic, who reached the quarter-finals a year ago before losing 6-4, 7-6(4) to Nick Kyrgios, would face either No. 5 seed Rafael Nadal or No. 9 Grigor Dimitrov in the last eight.

As with the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Juan Martin del Potro, who played and lost 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 to Novak Djokovic, is headed for another potential third-round blockbuster. This time it would be against No. 4 seed Roger Federer if they both win their opening matches after byes.     


Shapovalov scores big in Drummondville

Credit: Jean-Samuel Gauthier

Denis Shapovalov won the first Challenger level event of his young career on Sunday, defeating Ruben Bemelmans of Belgium 6-3, 6-2 in the final of the $75,000 Drummondville National Bank Challenger.

The 17-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., added the title to his win in the $25,000 Gatineau Futures event two weeks earlier and the combined ATP points total moved his ranking up to a careerhigh No. 194, making him the youngest player in the Top 200.

In the semifinals, Shapovalov beat 16-year-old compatriot Félix Auger-Aliassime 7-5, 6-3. In both matches Shapovalov, who didn’t lose a set all week, was more consistent than his opponent – more solid from the backcourt and definitely superior in his net play.

“I’m proud of how competitive he was in every match,” said Shapovalov’s coach Martin Laurendeau, the Canadian Davis Cup captain. “He was very concentrated and ready to fight for every point in difficult playing conditions considering the speed (very fast) of the courts.

“It’s incredible that two 16 and 17-year-old guys have dominated three pro tournaments.”

 Laurendeau was referring to Shapovalov’s success and Auger-Aliassime’s victory at the $25,000 Futures event in Sherbrooke the week before Drummondville. The Montrealer has also reached a career high at No. 374.

Adil Shamasdin of Pickering, Ont., and his partner Sam Groth of Australia, the top seeds, won the Drummondville doubles event defeating second-seeded Australians Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith 6-3, 2-6, [10-8]. But the win only bumped Shamasdin from No. 68 to No. 67 in the ATP doubles rankings.

This week Shapovalov is playing the $50,000 Challenger on hard courts in Guadalajara, Mexico. In the first round he faces No. 189 Akira Santillan, 19, of Japan while No. 2 seed Vasek Pospisil takes on Mexican wild card Manuel Sanchez, who is 26 and ranks No. 663.

(NOTE: Hard to believe that with a tennis tradition that includes 1962 U.S. Nationals champion Rafael Osuna, Raul Ramirez, Francisco Maciel and Leonardo Lavalle, the current top-ranked Mexican is 21-year-old Lucas Gomez at No. 603.)

Should Pospisil and Shapovalov win their opening matches in Guadalajara on Wednesday, they will meet in the second round.

With that ranking of No. 194, Shapovalov is guaranteed a spot in the qualifying for the French Open and Wimbledon because he shouldn’t drop any lower than about No. 220 even if he defends no points between now and June.

But…of course he doesn’t need a high ranking for Wimbledon because as reigning Junior Boys Singles Champion he automatically receives a wild card into the qualifying. 

The No. 1 challenge

When Vasek Pospisil beat Andy Murray 6-4, 7-6(5) in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 11th, he became the first Canadian to record a win over a world No. 1 since a 19-year-old Daniel Nestor upset Stefan Edberg 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a Davis Cup match in Vancouver in 1992.

While Pospisil’s career has been overshadowed by Milos Raonic, he has one-upped his compatriot by becoming the first to achieve a win over a current No. 1.

Raonic has had eight tries – five against Novak Djokovic, two against Rafael Nadal and one against Andy Murray. Though he has three wins in 12 meetings with Roger Federer, the great Swiss was never No. 1 at the time.

As for Pospisil, he has lost four times to Djokovic when the Serb was ranked No. 1 and never played Nadal or Federer when they were in the top spot in the ATP rankings.

Pospisil was opportunistic against Murray at Indian Wells. He had played the 29-year-old Brit four previous times – and lost each one – before winning the first time he faced him as the world No. 1. 


Indian Wells Post Card

These guys made no secret of the man they were supporting at the BNP Paribas Open. The No. 8-ranked Austrian had a good run at Indian Wells – reaching the quarter-finals before losing 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(2) to eventual runner-up Stan Wawrinka.