Well what a surprising day yesterday was in Indian Wells. First Isner played some incredible clutch tennis to upset Djokovic 7-6(7), 3-6, 7-6(5), and then Goderer made a rare showing by defeating his nemesis in epic fashion. I don’t think anyone expected those two results. I was disappointed when Djokovic lost because I wanted him there for insurance in case Roger lost, but Roger didn’t look like he needed any insurance the way he played against Nadal. He came out there looking too stamp down his authority on the match from the start with aggressive tennis. Having said that, when he went ahead 3-0 on the first set I wasn’t getting my hopes up. We had seen that happen too many times before, only for Roger to end up losing.
And I was right not to get excited because Nadal won the next three games to even things up at 3-3. At 4-3 Roger got the break again however, and this time he wasn’t gonna get broken back again as he played a faultless game to hold serve to love and take the opening set. The stats for the first set was pretty much spotless. Roger made 74% first serves, won 9/9 points at the net, and converted 2/2 break points. In the second set Roger kept up his dominating play as he broke Nadal to love in the third game, but not before a short rain break. It was just spitting rain and not enough for the players to leave the court. At 3-1 and 40-15 on Nadal’s serve Roger produced two more break points to get the insurance break. These were like match points in my mind.
I think Nadal saved the first one with a serve and then Roger netted a forehand on the next break point. There were still doubts in my mind as to whether Roger would get it done. But at 4-2 he did get the insurance break. Suddenly 6-3, 6-2 had a very nice ring to it, especially after Nadal beat Roger by the same score last year in Miami. But Nadal became more aggressive as he usually does when under pressure, and broke back. Roger would serve for the match at 5-4. At that point Nadal took a bathroom break which he did no doubt to unsettle Roger. Yet another example of gamesmanship by the king of gamesmanship. He just wanted to remind Roger that he is serving for the match and tried to make him crack under the pressure. This is what I was talking about before the match also.
As a player it wasn’t in my nature to use gamesmanship, but when my opponent used it I felt it gave me a license to use it too. I guess Roger is different. He prefers to make the racquet do the talking. Whether or not Nadal’s break affected him I don’t know, but he was clearly nervous again. He kept missing first serves like he did against Nadal in Melbourne, but he played well enough to get the score to 30-30. Then there was a rally where Nadal was on the attack again but Roger defended well to force the error from Nadal. And incredibly on match point it started spitting rain again. They had to sit down again and thank God they didn’t have to leave the court. Maybe the short break allowed Roger to gather himself a bit because he served an ace to clinch the victory.
Just beautiful. It was Roger at his best in this match and the match reminded me of the 2009 Madrid final where Roger also took control and basically just hit Nadal off the court. This victory was special because it was the first time Roger beat Nadal on outdoor hard court since 2005, and possibly the first time that he beat him on slow outdoor hard court. And you gotta love the fact that Roger is doing this at age 30 while Nadal is still in his prime. I don’t want to hype up this win too much like I did after the Masters Cup however. This was not a slam after all. It would be nice if Roger won the first two sets against Nadal in slam like he did here though. But even then you know Nadal is not out of it. The three set format allows Roger to end the match sooner and puts less of a mental burden on him.
This was a very nice win anyway. It made Roger avoid the turkey status and he is now leading the head-to-head on 2/3 surfaces again, and he leads Nadal 8-6 off clay. The 3-2 lead Nadal has in slams off clay is the one that bothers me, and hopefully Roger can do something about that during the remainder of the year. I wouldn’t bet against it either. This win must give Roger some confidence against Nadal. He really played well in all departments. Aside from that final game Roger served very well. His backhand was the key perhaps. He was ripping it for winners and hit so many of those half volleys from the base line. He didn’t allow Nadal to expose his backhand like he usually does. Given that the wind was quite strong it was even more impressive.
Of course Nadal complained about the wind after the match, forgetting how he destroyed Murray in the final in an even stronger wind a few years ago. Roger’s return and net game was on fire as well. The main thing is that he took control of the match and played very aggressive. I have talked about this before as well. Fedal matches is offense against defense. The one that applies their strength the best on the day is going to win. When Roger keeps attacking and stamps his authority on the match then Nadal doesn’t have much of a prayer, because I have always believed offense is better than defense. Problem is Roger doesn’t always play as dominantly against Nadal as he did here. He usually begins that way and then allows Nadal into the match somehow.
It is mostly mental, as Roger apparently said in his presser as well(I don’t read Roger’s pressers before I make a post). I guess over the course of five sets there are more chances for Roger to allow Nadal back in the match as opposed to three sets. But Roger must use this experience and take it into slams against Nadal. At least he knows he can win the first two sets against Nadal, after which odds of him winning must increase significantly. Something interesting is that since the US Open Roger has won five titles while Nadal has won none since the French Open last year. Roger has also accumulated 5410 ranking points since the US Open, Murray 2960, Djokovic 2920, and Nadal 2560. And if Roger wins today he will have 5810 points since then.
He will also bag his fourth Indian Wells title if he does so. The head-to-head for Roger against Isner is 2-1, having lost their last meeting in the Davis Cup this year. Isner is now a top 10 player after his win against Djokovic, and deservedly so. He has been impressive of late. Something that has always impressed me about him is his clutchness. Against Djokovic in the tie breaks he showed that once again. That is something that could be a problem for Roger, although after his win over Nadal Roger will be boiling over with confidence. Isner’s serve is especially difficult to deal with. Djokovic is maybe the best returner in the game, but there wasn’t much he could do against the Isner serve. Roger is also a very good returner though and is good at returning big servers.
We are probably looking at at least one tie break here. There one or two points will make the difference. Either way this is potentially a very tough match for Roger, just because Isner is such an awkward player and is so clutch. It certainly won’t be anything like playing against Nadal. Isner will give Roger no rhythm. The match will come down to a few clutch points, and both players have loads of belief in their own abilities after their semi-final matches. But in the end I believe the GOAT will seize the moment and win a sixth title in eight starts. I am just loving seeing Roger back in an Indian Wells final and I’m excited about his year. He could win a slam and return to the number one ranking to beat Sampras record of total weeks at the top if he keeps this up.
But first there is business to take care of…