WASHINGTON, March 18, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Roger Federer advanced to Sunday’s men’s singles final of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California, with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Borna Coric that maybe was not a display of his “A” game that has propelled him to 27 Masters 1000 titles in his storied career. Blame it on the early 11 a.m. start time that was geared for American television, something that caused Federer to change his rhythm and preparation. Regardless, give the Swiss maestro an “A” for his effort and determination.
“At some point you are happy with very little,” said the defending champion Federer, after his come-from-behind win over the unseeded and 49th-ranked Coric. “It didn’t come easy. I hung tough and had to go after it.
“Borna did a great job and didn’t give me much. It was cat and mouse.”
Federer was down a set and a break to the Croat before turning things around. He rallied in the second set with two breaks in the final three games against Coric. Then, in the third set, he won the final 11 points of the two hour and 20 minute battle, breaking at love to win the match.
“It’s not always supposed to always be easy,” admitted Federer during his post-match press conference following Saturday’s win. “I enjoy fighting matches and I won today through fighting. My fighting spirit came out today.”
Even on a day in which Federer was not at his best, the World No. 1 is still off to the best start of his career with a 17-0 win-loss record and titles at the Australian Open and Rotterdam – and he’s won 40 of 44 sets this season. Federer will play in his 147th career final when he faces No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro, who will be going after his first Masters 1000 title. The Argentine, looking fit and finally free of wrist pain, advanced rather easily with a 6-2, 6-3 semifinal win over No. 32 seed Milos Raonic for his 400th career victory.
Federer leads the head-to-head against the World No. 8 del Potro 18-6 (including 13-6 on hard courts) and went 3-1 last year. Looking ahead to the final, Federer said, “We know each other well and respect each other.”
First-time final: Kasatkina versus Osaka
A new wave of young players in women’s tennis has made following the Indian Wells draw in the scenic California palm desert the past two weeks quite a treat. With 96 players at the start of the tournament, the BNP Paribas Open – like the upcoming Miami Open – is a prestigious tournament that most who follow the sport, including players, fans and writers, rank just below the Grand Slams.
Down to the last two players, Indian Wells gets a rare first-time final Sunday between a couple of rising 20-year-old stars in No. 20 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia and unseeded Naomi Osaka, who was born in Japan but now resides in Boca Raton, Florida. On Friday evening, Kasatkina advanced with an impressive three-set semifinal win over No. 8 Venus Williams, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, that lasted nearly three hours. Then, Osaka dominated Simona Halep, ranked No. 1 in the world, 6-3, 6-0. It will be the first WTA Premier Mandatory final for both players.
As New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey tweeted Saturday in reference to Kasatkina and Osaka and the rest of the WTA’s youth movement, “They’re young and they’re fun.”
After beating Halep, Osaka, who has been the source of wonderful – and, at times, self-deprecating – insights throughout her entire run to the final, said: “Well, it feels a little bit lonely because there’s, like, nobody here.” But, as she later told Reem Abulleil of Sport360.com, it’s “cool” because there’s more sushi in the players’ lounge for her to eat.
Asked to describe what it will be like to face Kasatkina in the final, Osaka told Abulleil, “I feel like maybe I came out a little bit slower than she has, because she’s obviously seeded in this tournament and stuff. But I feel like we ended up in the same place, and we’re both going to try really hard.
“And, yeah, I feel like there is a new generation, and we’re trying to push through.”
Meanwhile, Kasatkina credited the crowd for lifting her over Williams on a cool evening Friday. “The crowd was unbelievable,” she said, during her post-match press conference. “To play Venus Williams on center court in the United States in the semifinals, one of the biggest tournaments, you just put your heart there, and that’s it.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.