The two weeks of the BNP Paribas Open in the California desert make up what is probably the most enjoyable fortnight of the tennis year. It’s an event showcasing all the top men and women and in a relaxed, spacious and inviting atmosphere.
Every showcourt is known as a “Stadium” – from Stadium 1 and its 16,100 seats to cozy Stadium 9 with room for a only few hundred spectators.
Players love dependable hot weather and the wide open spaces – from the huge, lush lawn where they jog, stretch and exercise to the large, outdoor patio outside their restaurant with its wide variety of fine foods and goodies.
The sometimes overbearing sun is about the only drawback, and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden even has a solution for that – several shaded areas under gigantic canopies.
This year’s two champions, Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep were deserving winners – Djokovic has been the best player in the men’s game since 2011 and Halep, as No. 3 in the WTA, was the best player remaining after Maria Sharapova’s upset and Serena Williams’ semifinal withdrawal with a knee issue.
Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 win over Roger Federer in the final gave him his fourth title at Indian Wells, as well as his 50th overall. He is now an impeccable 9-0 in his last nine Masters 1000 finals.
There have been moments of acrimony in the relationship between Federer and Djokovic over the years, but those now seem in the past. After his victory on Sunday, Djokovic said, when asked about Federer being the crowd favourite among the Stadium 1 spectators, “he’s somebody that’s been around the tour for so many years. Plus, he’s a great guy on and off the court. And I’m sure it’s normal that he has the support, major support anywhere he goes, especially here in the United States.
“I have to earn my, I would say majority of the support here or any other tournament, you know, with the time spent on this level, with the titles, and with my responsibility as somebody that is on the top of the men’s game. You know, on and off the court have to carry myself in the right way, and then hopefully one day the people will get to recognize that even more and more.”
One thing Djokovic does exceedingly well is make himself accessible for his fans. He was reportedly still on court a half hour after Sunday’s final signing autographs.
In the picture above, Federer offers his hand to Djokovic right after they had finished posing for presentation ceremony photos on court. Usually the runner-up just kind of slinks away once the focus turns to pictures of the champion alone with the trophy. But, as he left, Federer turned to Djokovic and shook his hand before departing – a sporting gesture.
Since Djokovic’s sensational 2011 when he won three of the four Grand Slams and lost only one match that he completed – the Roland Garros semifinal versus Federer – from January until the end of the US Open, Djokovic has been dominant in the men’s game.
As New York Times writer Christopher Clarey pointed out in a tweet on Monday, Djokovic is 12-7 with Federer, 12-7 with Rafael Nadal and 13-5 with Andy Murray since 2011.
If you take his performances in Grand Slam events – 13 in all – since a year later in 2012, he has won four of 13 played, which is a 30 per cent success rate. Over the same time, Nadal has won four of 10 for 40 per cent success. Federer is one of 13 for a success rate of just seven per cent.
In the broader picture – all nine Masters 1000 events and the year-end ATP World Tour Finals – Djokovic has won 14 of 30 events – or 46 per cent over the same period. Nadal during that time is 8 of 20 or 40 per cent, while Federer is five of 23 or 21 per cent.
But, at the Grand Slam events, it would appear that he is under-performing. If he had a 46 per cent success rate in Grand Slams since 2011, he would have won two more and have six, not four, over the past three years and three months. His overall total would not be eight but 10 – four behind Nadal and seven behind Federer’s record 17.
It’s also surprising that, while he has won on all surfaces, his only non-Australian Open title at a Grand Slam since 2012 came at Wimbledon last year. Turning 28 next month, the Serb is right in his prime and logically should have a good shot at winning two of the next three Grand Slam events in 2015.
Things can change quickly with a new generation emerging, so he should feel some urgency, especially at Roland Garros where he is desperate to win the only Grand Slam missing from his record.
During Sunday’s final, Djokovic double-faulted twice in a row leading by a set and serving at 5-4 in the second-set tiebreak against Federer.
“We are all humans,” he would comment later. “We all fall under pressure sometimes. It’s completely normal, even though I have had so much experience. Roger, as well.”
Jelena Jankovic, who lost the women’s final 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Halep after leading by a set and serving at 5-4, 30-30 in the second set, said something very similar to her Serbian compatriot about her obvious choke. “I’m just nervous. It’s normal. I’m a human being.”
Always one of the more colourful characters on the women’s tour, Jankovic later joked about her collapse when serving for the match in the second set, “I needed…you know, if I just could call Karlovic to serve two serves, that would do the job. I guess I didn’t have that Karlovic serve in me when it mattered.”
Being in the final was a surprise for Jankovic, just turned 30, after a serious back problem that didn’t allow her to train for two months at the end of last season.
No wonder she got tight on the brink of winning one of the tour’s four top-flight Premier Mandatory tournaments.
In the final analysis, Halep, whose game was all over the place for much of the first two sets, was the more aggressive player in the decisive moments late in the second and third sets and that earned her the biggest title of her career.
Milos and Genie in the desert
Milos Raonic was extremely disappointed after losing the fourth match of Canada’s Davis Cup tie against Japan – 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 to Kei Nishikori – on March 8 in Vancouver.
That was on the eve of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and Raonic, looking ahead to Indian Wells, declared at the time, “this gives me things to build off of, and I can do big things there.”
It turned out to be more than talk, he did do big things, getting his first-ever win over Rafael Nadal – 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 in the quarter-finals while saving three match points – before pushing Roger Federer to 6-4, 7-5 in the semifinals.
Federer broke serve at 5-5 in the first set and then in the first game of the second. One shot that Raonic would surely like back was a missed forehand into an opening when he had Federer love-30 in the final game of the match. Everything was going swimmingly for Federer but had Raonic made that shot and eventually broken to force a tiebreak, the world No. 2 might have been rattled. There could have been a chance for a Raonic victory from a set down for the second day in a row.
The semifinal in Indian Wells means Raonic has reached the quarter-finals or better in eight of his last 10 Masters 1000 events.
He will now try to make that nine of 11 when he plays later this week at the Miami Open. After a bye, his first opponent will be either Teymuraz Gabashvili or Pablo Andujar. His toughest opposition before the semifinals will likely come in the round-of-16 (Grigor Dimitrov or John Isner) and quarter-finals (Nishikori).
Vasek Pospisil will face the returning Juan Martin del Potro – their first meeting – in his opening match, with Dimitrov awaiting in round two.
It was tough to get a read on Genie Bouchard at the BNP Paribas Open. She played like her old self in easily dispatching Lucie Hradecka and Coco Vandeweghe in her first two matches, but looked totally out of sorts from the beginning against No. 85-ranked Lesia Tsurenko in the round-of-16. The Ukrainian qualifier was up 4-1 and 5-3 in the opening set.
But she then injured her right ankle, had treatment and wound up losing the set 7-5 in a tiebreak. Bouchard trailed midway through the second set when she strained an abdominal muscle hitting a serve and had to leave the court for treatment. Nonetheless, she still got herself into a position to serve for match at 5-4, but lost that game to love.
Tsurenko won the second set 7-5 and then, after trailing 4-1, ran off five games in a row in the third to finally win 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4.
It was all rather strange and Bouchard’s subpar performance is hard to fathom, especially before her abdominal problem. But she claims to have had the injury before and gotten over it quickly. How well she recovers should be obvious soon enough as she starts, after a bye, on Friday at the Miami Open against either Roberta Vinci or a qualifier. She then could potentially face Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens or Lucie Safarova in the round-of 16.
Francoise Abanda, 18 and ranked No. 235, has been given a wild card into the main draw. She will take on 29-year-old Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, ranked No. 51, in her opening match.
Pospisil – Sock triumph in doubles
The numbers are starting to get a bit ridiculous for Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock. Seven doubles events played and three titles won – Wimbledon ’14, Atlanta ’14 and Indian Wells ’15.
With the win in Indian Wells last Saturday – worth 1000 ATP ranking points and $147,500 (US) each in prize money – Pospisil’s individual doubles ranking moved from No. 15 to No. 8 and Sock’s from No. 16 to No. 10.
As a team, after just playing one event in 2015 – Sock’s first tournament since right hip/pelvic surgery last December 16 – Pospisil and Sock are No. 7 in the ATP standings with 1,000 points. That’s just 20 points behind the sixth-place pairing of Daniel Nestor and Rohan Bopanna.
Anyone who watched their matches at Indian Wells would have been impressed by the explosive power of the Sock forehand and Pospisil’s all-round doubles skills, especially around the net. Combined with big serving by both and obvious good chemistry, those attributes were the key to their success as they beat Sam Groth and Feliciano Lopez [7-6(11), 6-1], Andre Begemann and Ernests Gulbis [7-6(4), 6-2], top seeds Bob and Mike Bryan [6-4, 6-4] and, in the final, reigning Australian Open champions Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini [6-4, 6-7(3), 10-7].
“It’s been an incredible week,” Pospisil said. “We played well every match. It’s just thrilling to end the week like that and go into Miami with some big confidence.
“It’s another milestone. This is a Masters 1000, it’s a huge event. It’s our first Masters title. Hopefully, we’ll have many more.”
The ‘Guide Dogs of the Desert’ are associated with the BNP Paribas Open and last week there was a photo op with Pospisil and some of the dogs. He is clearly a dog lover and that was evident when, after several minutes of playing with several of the friendly animals (above), he smiled and said spontaneously, “this is fun.”
Pospisil and Sock are scheduled to play together at the Miami Open starting this week.
Rule change required
There was a critical moment in a third-round BNP Paribas Open match between Thanasi Kokkinakis and Juan Monaco. Kokkinakis, the 18-year-old Aussie, got to match point at 5-4 in the third set and watched as a shot from his Argentine opponent landed close to the sideline.
Kokkinakis was out of challenges and so could not ask for a review. It turned out the Monaco shot was wide (as revealed on television by Hawk-Eye) and Kokkinakis would have won.
Fortunately, he wound up pulling out the match in a final-set tiebreak – 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(5). But, had he lost, there would have been a flagrant injustice because he had already won the match when Monaco missed wide with his shot on match point.
There should be an immediate change to the rules. Even if a player is out of challenges, if it’s a match point, a discretionary challenge should be awarded to the umpire to allow him or her to request a Hawk-Eye review.
Some people may think that it’s the player’s responsibility to manage his or her challenges. But match point has to be an exception. As long as Hawk-Eye is available, it’s unconscionable that a player could wind up losing a match that he or she had won.
There’s an argument that one point (or more) before match point, a player, out of challenges, would not have the option of the umpire’s discretionary challenge. But match point is totally different because of its finality.
If Hawk-Eye is available, tennis cannot have a situation where a player can lose a match he or she had actually won – maybe even a Wimbledon final – because of being out of challenges.
A rule should be implemented so that – on the most important point of all – there’s no chance of someone being denied a victory because he or she has no challenges left.
The technology is there to prevent such a travesty. The rules should be changed, and as soon as possible, to allow Hawk-Eye to be the ultimate arbiter of any questionable match point line call. Getting it right – in that one specific situation – is way more important than simply applying an arbitrary number of player challenges in a match.
Felix Auger Aliassime of Montreal, just 14 years old, got his first ATP points at the $50,000 (US) Challenger Banque Nationale sin Drummondville, Que., last week. Here’s an interesting story about him from the ATP World Tour website.