2014/12/18

Djokovic dominates Benneteau and Isner Edges Gulbis for BNP Paribas Open Rematch

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic

By Kevin Ware

[2] Novak Djokovic defeats Julien Benneteau 6-1 6-3

Benneteau played solid tennis to make it through to the quarters, but the odds were stacked against him in this match-up. With a head-to-head record of 1-5, and that one victory coming back in 2006, chances were slim that he’d be able to mount a sufficient challenge to the current World No. 2.

As expected, the first set was over in just 28 minutes and featured two breaks of the Benneteau serve. This wasn’t surprising with a first serve percentage 54%, and a second serve win percentage is 17%. As his struggles on serve mounted, Benneteau pressed on his groundstrokes, which only made matters worse.

In the end, Benneteau’s 10 winners to 32 unforced errors tell the final tale of this match. He served poorly and, as a result, had to go for too much in his shots against Djokovic. For his part, Djokovic played a clean and straightforward match. He hit 17 winners to 12 unforced errors, won 93% of his first serves, 6 of 8 net approaches, and 4 of 15 break points against the Frenchman.

This was a comprehensive win by all measures. It was also a more consistent performance from Djokovic, who has had issues with keeping his focus after jumping out to early leads.  It was something he touched on in his post-match remarks.

“I felt like I was very focused on the court from the start, and it’s what I was looking for.  First few matches I played good tennis but I had some ups and downs. Today was very stable from the first to the last point.”

When asked about the possibility of playing Isner in the semifinals, his two previous losses to Big John in Masters Series readily came to mind.

“I played John here a few years ago and I remember that match.  7-6 in the third, and also lost to him very close one in Cincinnati last year.”

“It’s very challenging because he doesn’t miss his serve too much, so you have to kind of be able to hold your composure, you know, from the first to the last point and be ready to play three tiebreaks.  That’s all.”

Isner fh

John Isner

[12] John Isner defeats [20] Ernests Gulbis 7-6(4) 7-6(3)

A John Isner win in two tiebreak sets is expected. An Isner win over Ernest Gulbis in two tiebreak sets by pressuring his opponent’s ground game is not. But that’s what happened in their BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal match.

Both players held serve through the first set leading up to the tiebreak. Leading 3-2 in the tiebreaker, Gulbis found himself on the losing end of a protracted rally with Isner. Rattled by the losing exchange, he gave up the next point on his serve after the change of ends. That’s all Isner needed to close out the first set tiebreak 7-4.

Isner surprisingly stumbled at the start of the second set by dropping his first service game at love, giving up the crucial early break. When asked about it after the match, he admitted to a little bit of a “checkout” after winning the first set. “I did.  I didn’t play a great service game at all to start the second set.”

But to his credit, Isner kept his head down and worked to slowly chip away at Gulbis’ game (and confidence) before getting the break back when his Latvian opponent failed miserably to serve out the set at 5-4. After that, a second set tiebreak and eventual win was all but assured.

It was a surprisingly nervy performance from the rising Gulbis: a player with a ton of talent and bravado to match. Isner only hit 13 aces in the match, so he wasn’t aced off the court. He had chances to get into Isner’s service games when he got the ball back in play, but failed to win the key points in rallies.

Isner sensed Gulbis’ issues while also noting how his own game loosened up after dropping that first game. “I had chances to pull back even in that second set prior to that 5-4 game too, but I just stayed with it.”

“Once the second set started to get going, I started to see the ball better and I started to make more progress on his serve.  At the same time, he got ‑ in my opinion, I think he got a little bit looser, as well, started making some more mistakes.”

With this win, Isner is projected to re-renter the Top 10. It also marks his fifth appearance in an ATP Masters Series semifinal.

Men’s Semifinals

[7[ Roger Federer versus [28] Alexandr Dolgopolov
H2H: Federer leads 1-0 (Ret)

[2] Novak Djokovic versus [12] John Isner
H2H: Djokovic leads 4-2

Kevin Ware is in Indian Wells covering theBNP Paribas Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his live updates on twitter @TennisNewsTPN.  Follow his personal twitter @SFTennisFreak.

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