March 22, 2015
A defiant Novak Djokovic notched his fiftieth career title as he defeated Roger Federer 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 in what became a titanic clash of wills at Indian Wells.
The Serb’s hard-earned triumph in America comes after successive Federer victories against the younger man. Once again it was a classic battle between two men who just hate to lose.
Novak looked unbeatable after an astonishing first set, during which Djokovic won all seventeen of his first serve points and required only 32 minutes to achieve supremacy.
It wasn’t as though Federer had played badly. But after Djokovic broke midway through that opening set, he simply didn’t look back until he had won it. When Federer had a break point to go 2-0 ahead in the second set and might have launched an immediate fightback, Novak simply slammed the door shut and promptly broke the Swiss instead to take command.
A determined Roger soon had another chance to strike back. Djokovic raised his game afresh, and it seemed he was closing in for the kill.
Perhaps the presence in the crowd of Novak’s wife Jelena, taking a break from her new role as a mother, made this a match Djokovic didn’t feel he could lose.
Yet Federer hadn’t read the script. He conjured some sensational tennis in the eighth game of the second set to break and draw level at 4-4. Following up with a scintillating service game, the tables were turned.
Suddenly Djokovic was serving to stay in the second set – and lost the first two points on his vital service game. Slowly he clawed his way back to draw level, draining Roger of more energy.
Federer piled on the pressure once more – and we waited to see whether Djokovic would crack under a fierce Californian sun. Novak certainly seemed annoyed that the crowd were pulling for Roger. At times he applauded their reactions sarcastically and looked out of sorts.
Yet Novak still held his nerve for long enough to force the tie-break. Indeed it was Federer who blinked first on a drive-volley. Back came Roger once more, but his wayward smash into the bottom of the net left him 3-5 behind.
When many players would have capitulated, Federer dug deep to engineer a break-back. Inexplicably, Novak double-faulted repeatedly to leave Roger to serve out the breaker 7-5.
Just when the noisy fans demanded a colossal climax to a magnificent match, Federer lost focus. A ruthless-looking Novak raced to a 2-0 lead but faltered as Roger zoned back in to draw level once more.
Then Federer threw it all away with a double fault born of fatigue, a fatal error that gave Djokovic a 4-2 cushion.
Federer had fought gamely but he had almost nothing left in the tank. At last, Novak sensed the finishing line was in sight. And the relief was visible as he finally raised his arms, looked up into the darkening sky, then embraced his wife and team.
An ecstatic Djokovic, champion at Indian Wells for the fourth time, said: ‘Hopefully we can play some more this year, Roger, it is always a pleasure.’
An exhausted Federer said: ‘Congratulations to Novak, and thanks to the wonderful crowd, hope to see you again next year.’
Meanwhile Simona Halep won a dramatic women’s final at Indian Wells to register the most important title of her
career so far. She defeated Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a match she might easily have lost. ‘I’m freaking out,’ admitted Jankovic before she served for the match.
Without a title for more than two years, Jankovic tightened yet again when it mattered and allowed the popular Romanian to grab the glory.
‘It’s my biggest title and I’ll never forget it,’ said Halep.
For Jankovic it was the end of a nightmare final, during which she complained: ‘I just can’t hold my serve, where is the consistency?’
The consistency was on the other side of the net, and Halep’s form this year makes her the world number one so far.