So many story lines at Indian Wells

March 21, 2011

The first Masters Series event of the year in Indian Wells, California was absolutely brilliant: so many story lines. How would Rafael Nadal play in his first ATP event after his injury in the Australian Open? Could Novak Djokovic continue his unbeatable form this year having won in Australia and Dubai? How would Andy Murray play after his 1st round loss in Rotterdam? Could Juan Martin Del Potro get back to his best form again after winning Delray Beach earlier this year? Would Roger Federer win Indian Wells for a record 4th time?

Andy Murray of Britain reacts to losing a point against Donald Young of the U.S. during their match at the Indian Wells ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, March 12, 2011.  REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Murray played poorly and lost his first match to American qualifier and world number 143, Donald Young. He didn’t seem into the match and played very passively to lose in straight sets. This sort of performance asks more questions about his mental state after losing again in the finals of the Australian Open in January. He needs to get back on track in Miami because he is in danger of losing his world number 4 ranking. This means he could face Nadal, Federer, or Djokovic in the quarter-finals of events instead of the semi-finals. Let’s hope for a good run in Miami because this could set the tone for the rest of the year for Murray. He needs to play more proactively. Also a change of direction with either a new coach who has worked with the very best or a mentor who has won majors. He needs some freshness brought to his tennis. It has to be fun again.

On the other hand Juan Martin Del Potro has made great strides in the last few weeks and is starting to regain his form after a long layoff from wrist surgery. He plays aggressive tennis and played great this week to make the semi-finals against Nadal. He is not yet ready to beat the very best but in 2 or 3 months he will, if he can stay healthy.

Nadal did not play great this week but with each match he got better and found a way to win. The quarter final match against Ivo Karlovic showed how much tenacity he has to win in a final set tie breaker, in a match were he had no rhythm. He has probably got the greatest mental strength of any tennis player I have ever seen. In the semi-finals versus Del Potro he was down 1-4 and fought back to win 5 games in a row to win the set 6-4 and started to play his best tennis of the week to make the finals.

Djokovic, on the other hand was sensational all week having destroyed all his opponents until he set up a semi-final match with Roger Federer. Djokovic has beaten Federer twice this year in the semi-finals of the Australian Open and finals of Dubai. There was an added motivation for both players because whoever won the match would be world number 2. They both talked that down but both players want to be ahead of each other in the rankings. It was the match of the tournament with Djokovic winning the 1st set and then Federer hit back to win the 2nd set. Djokovic showed us why he has not lost this year and raised his level to win convincingly 6-2 in the final set. He really took advantage of Federer’s one handed backhand and served so well on the big points. Also Djokovic’s movement, defence, attack and mental state make him look like a world number 1 in the making. Only one more place to go.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia stretches at the net to make a return to Roger Federer of Switzerland during their semifinal match at the Indian Wells ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California March 19, 2011.  REUTERS/Mike Blake

What a final – Nadal v Djokovic; the two best players on the planet now. Nadal came out on fire and bossed Djokovic around to win the first set 6-4. He did everything so well and he served exceptionally well especially on second serves. But, Djokovic didn’t panic and stood his ground. Nadal’s serve all of a sudden disappeared and he served only 25% of first serves in which Djokovic took full advantage of to win the 2nd set 6-3. He took control and never allowed Nadal back in the match. He out-served him, out-rallied him, and beat him mentally to win 6-2 in the final set to win his third title this year. He has now played 18 matches and won them all which is better than Federer’s streak of 16 match wins to start a season.

Novak Djokovic of Serbia celebrates defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain to win the men's final of the Indian Wells ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

I can’t see Federer beating Nadal or Djokovic at the moment, they are just better from the back of the court and they force Federer to play in a manner which is not yet natural for him coming forward. He tries to force the play and goes for too much. I think we are looking at Federer staying at 3 in the world now. Wimbledon this year will tell us if this is so. There seems a shift now with Djokovic looking like the main challenger to Nadal’s crown as world number 1. Bring on Miami!

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts to losing a point against Novak Djokovic of Serbia during the men's final of the Indian Wells ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

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