The tennis world's attention has turned to the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, but I still have an hour before first round action begins to talk about Indian Wells. I love a deadline.
Oops, I should have given you a spoiler alert. That guy, pictured above, Novak Djokovic? He won.
You want to see this kind of tennis in a championship final, the kind Djokovic and Roger Federer delivered at Indian Wells. Amazing get-out-of-jail free shots, powerful hitting, close games and a deciding set tiebreak between two well-matched opponents with a history, one that just got a lot more interesting.
Alright, you know already that Djokovic beat Fed, regrouping after failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the third set, to gobble up the tiebreak for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory at the BNP Paribas Open. What you may not know is that Nole is now 16-17 against Roger, making their match-ups more compelling than the much-vaunted rivalry between Fed and Rafael Nadal, where the discrepency is larger. Nadal has a 23-10 record against The Greatest of All Time, making Nadal more of a mountain to climb for Fed than a sparring partner.
These Worthy Opponents were so evenly matched in this final. Both had 6 aces. Federer double faulted 4 times, Djokovic, 5. Djoko won just one more point than Fed overall, 99 to 98. Wow.
What the numbers show is that Federer was pushed further during his service games than Djokovic was. Fed faced six break points, fighting them off 4 times, while Djokovic only stared down three break points, losing two of them.
One of those break points, of course, was the one at 0-40, 5-4 in the third, that let Fed back into the match. It was the second time Djokovic faltered when serving for it all. Two times, he was serving for the match against John Isner in the second set of their semifinal on Saturday.
"The way I won this title is something that makes me very happy and gives me mentally a lot of satisfaction because I have had specifically these three matches against [Marin] Cilic and yesterday's semi-final and today's final, situations where I played three sets where it was very tense, very emotional," said Djokovic.
"A few points really here and there could go either way, and then it went my way. I stayed mentally tough, and that, for me, is something that gives me a lot of encouragement and hopefully a confidence boost for the rest of the season."
Federer acknowledged his worthy opponent's victory over Tennis Hate.
"At the end he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered," said Fed. "But credit to him for toughening it out and winning that second set and getting the breaker in the third."
Federer said he's happy with how he played, after struggling with back problems and a drop in confidence last season.
"A few weeks ago, months ago, a few people said I couldn't play tennis anymore," he sais of the haters. "So for me, I need to focus on my own game, my own routines, hard work, make sure I keep a good schedule for myself, for my family, and, you know, enjoy it. But at the same time, that fire, wanting to win, is important, and right now I have that. I think have a really good balance right now."
Haters, this sounds like a man on a mission. Slam number 18 at Wimbledon, perhaps? The way he's been playing, I don't doubt it. He's 19-3 this year, won Dubai, finaled in Brisbane and made the semis at the Australian Open. His recovery from back problems and his embrace of a bigger racquet are working.
The women's final between victor Flavia Pennetta and Aggie Radwanska was not as edge-of-your-seat satisfying. Radwanska, the number 2 seed, was injured, and Pennetta, seeded 20th, upset her easily, 6-2, 6-1. But the headline for I Hate Tennis is that the 32-year-old Pennetta almost quit tennis at this event a year ago.
"I think this one is after so many years so much work and everything, this is the moment I always waiting for, no?" she said. "Finally I have a good trophy in my hands."
Radwanska was super-bummed, and look at times on court like she was going to cry. Haters, when it gets to tears, it's over. I can think of players who smash racquets and shout at their box and then go on to win, like Ernests Gulbis or even Djokovic, who had such an outburst against John Isner in their three-set semi. Anger can motivate you. Sadness and fear just throw sand in your gas tank.
"I think it's just the worst thing for a player, you know, to not giving the 100%, especially in the final of the big event. And I just couldn't run as much as I normally do. And, well, just bad luck," she said.
Could she rise above the Tennis Hate, and see some good things in her two-week run? A reporter at Radwanska's post-match press conference must've read my mind.
Q. Aga, is it the disappointment that you feel from having to be injured in the final? I mean, this is still, you know, the first final that you have made here and a positive week. Is it hard to focus on the positives, or right now do you just feel disappointment?
AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: Well, I think disappointing feeling always comes first, I think, especially when you really, really, you know, have ambition to win the tournament. Of course still good two weeks. First final here. Big event. And, you know, still good result. But it's always disappointing that, you know, I really couldn't play my 100% today.
In doubles, the world number 1 women's team, Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai, won their first BNP Paribas Open title, beating doubles veteran Cara Black and Sania Mirza, who were seeded 5th. Hsieh and Peng are now 11-0 in WTA doubles finals.
On the men's side, world number 1s and top seeds Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan kept their men's doubles crown by beating second seeds Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares, 6-4, 6-3. It's the twins' 27th ATP Masters 1000 title and their 95th overall.
I'll close this post with an observation: Bob and Mike are so twinned, even their wives look alike.