July 29, 2015

Simona Halep Rallies Past Jelena Jankovic for Indian Wells Title

Simona Halep

Simona Halep

(March 22, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – It might not have been the final that people wanted, in amongst the hoopla surrounding Serena Williams return and subsequent withdrawal in the semi-final, but with 16 minutes gone and only two games on the board, there was no doubt the crowd were going to get their money’s worth, between former champion Jelena Jankovic and World No. 3 Simona Halep.

 

It was always going to be important for Jankovic to be able to move, and having struggle with injury ahead of the match, she kept the press core in stitches with her lack of preparation, but ultimately bringing in attacking play as well as defence would be the key.

 

There were early signs of nerves by Halep who struggled for eight minutes as Jankovic put in a pleasing display of aggressive drive volleys and her trademark backhand down the line to take the first game, but failed to consolidate as Halep settled back down quite quickly, as the first passage of play resolved on serve as Halep got the first hold of the day.

 

Jankovic took the initiative once more, this time managing to consolidate on a break of serve, nudging her into a commanding position at 4-2. With Halep venting her frustration on her racquet, it was clear to see that Jankovic’s aggression was perhaps throwing Halep off her game plan a little, as the Serbian broke again to come out and serve for the match.

 

With Halep receiving a medical timeout for her toe before the second set, it was important that she came out to hold her first service game, but her relief was short lived, as Jankovic kept the pressure on, in fact if anything starting to get a little frustrated at herself, which may have spurred her on to put the hammer down on the Romanian.

 

A loose game by the Serbian to get broken to love put Halep back in the driver’s seat and the second set back on serve at 3-3, and for the briefest moment it looked like we could be in for the three-setter that we wanted but the Romanian handed the break straight back and with it, her hopes for her biggest title in her career.

 

Halep had to dig out a further break, aided and abetted by some typical Jankovic drama which included three double faults, a time violation warning, and Jankovic trying to serve while a ball-kid was still scrambling off the court. It was an emotional rollercoaster for Halep, who once more found herself rapidly facing break points succumbing to the fourth straight break of serve this match, but more dangerously giving Jankovic serving for the title.

 

Admitting to her coach Chip Brooks that she was nervous she reverted to the defence we often see in her game, just giving Halep the opportunities to dig out winners, breaking her with the fifth consecutive time this set. With finally a hold to stop the run of breaks, Halep suddenly seemed the aggressor as Jankovic tightened up as the match went into a decider.

 

Again the initial advantage went to the volatile Serbian, but Halep was never far away from breaking back, as the pair treated the crowd to some great rallies, not to mention more drama as the chair umpire seemed to forget about the nuances of second serves.

 

 

With both struggling to keep hold of their serve in the final set, Jankovic called her coach back once more but her serve and resolve seemed to desert her once and for all as Halep broke for a 5-3 lead to serve for the title, but handed back the advantage straight away.

 

It took yet another break to love to seal the deal for the Romanian 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 after what started out as a difficult week for her, after a personal bereavement. It had been a great run for Jankovic who struggled to deal with the nerves of closing out, having won her last title in 2013.

 

After the match, Jankovic admitted that she had let her opportunities pass her by.

 

She said: “I let those nerves take the best out of me. That shouldn’t happen. I was full of emotions. I was just overwhelmed and excited that I’m in the final and I put myself into a position to win.

 

“So it’s been an amazing two weeks. Yes, of course I’m disappointed that I lost this final, because I really had a chance to win and hold that trophy. But I’m still proud of myself and my team how far I came into this tournament and what I have achieved.”

 

Halep admitted she knew she was being rushed into mistakes, especially in the first set, and finally the key had been to make her run over the three sets.

 

Talking to the press with the giant glass trophy at her side, she said: “She knew how to play me today to make more mistakes. It was difficult for me to take that balls very high and without power, so I did many mistakes with my forehand.

 

“My coach came on court and he said that I’m rushing at that balls. So I said, Okay, I understand, and I go now to play not very strong those balls.

 

“I just try to stay cool, to make her run a lot. I know that she’s running well, but still my backhand down the line was good today. Forehand so so. Everything went well, and, you know, I have no comments now. I have like, in my mind, it’s like ‑‑ I have another title, my biggest title now, so it’s amazing. I feel great.”

 

After attempting to lift it, she confirmed she intends to play Miami, as does Jankovic.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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What a Difference a Week Makes

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

(March 20, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Just as the tournament spun in the early days with the expectation of Serena Williams’ return, so it would end in an almost eerie echo of 14 years ago.

 

Social media had already buzzed about the news during the previous semi-final, and when she took to the court mostly to cheers, a few boos could be clearly heard from the Press balcony, coming from above, but the announcement was cleverly stage managed to celebrate 40 years of the tournament, and the momentousness of Williams come-back just a week ago.

 

Williams spoke to the press immediately afterwards and confirmed: “I was just on the practice court two days ago, day and a half ago, yesterday, and everything was going good. Literally last two couple minutes of practice I went for a serve and I just felt a super sharp pain in my knee.

 

“It was like, Okay, and I served again. I felt it again. I just came off, and it hasn’t been the same since. I have done everything. Like I have just pretty much done everything from taping to research and I even did an injection. I have never done an injection before.

 

“I think if this was any other event I probably wouldn’t have considered it. I wanted to give 200%. It just wasn’t meant to be this year.”

 

She has stated she intends to return to Indian Wells next year.

 

Meanwhile – we had the ATP quarter-finals to conclude, and that too was a tale of two halves.

315Federerin press.-001

Roger Federer almost bullied his way to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. From the outset he had Tomas Berdych on the back foot, at one stage throwing up three double faults in one game before Federer finally broke through the door he had been battering down. A single break was a respectable margin for the first set, but it was not enough as Federer stepped up a gear, and Berdych crumbled once more in a key match 6-4, 6-0.

 

The confidence he had at the start of the year with regards to changing the team around him, once more could not manifest itself when it came to the crunch, as Berdych tried to explain.

 

In his post-match news conference he said: “When you feel that he’s in control right from the beginning, then of course you have to come up with your best game from the beginning of the match. I mean, you just want to play well. You just want to play your best. There is a very thin line in between that and overdoing it. It’s not so easy, really, to control it every single time that you go play with a player like this, even if he’s playing in such a good shape.

 

“Today I stepped a little bit over it, so hope the next time, next day, it’s just going to stay on the line.”

 

With the very real prospect of the World Top 4 contesting the Indian Wells semi-finals, Federer cast his eye over another match up with Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard started aggressively against Milos Raonic, breaking him before the first change of ends in the first set.

 

Federer said: “Matches against him are always tough, I think. You know, he’s going to play the percentages high. He’s not going to miss many shots. He’s got a great forehand, one of the best ever. Then physically and mentally he’s always going to be there. That what makes him so good and so tough over all these years. “

 

It looked for all the world like we would be in for a quick afternoon, but somehow Raonic clung on to set, needing five set points in total (three in the tie-break) to take only his second set off the Spaniard.

 

Milos Raonic

Milos Raonic

Going toe-to-toe with him in the decider had everyone ready for a decisive tie-break but for a loose game by Nadal to give Raonic a 6-5 lead. For once it was right to come down to that serve as Raonic held his nerve to close out a 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5 win, his first over Nadal and it sets up an intriguing rematch now against Federer after their encounter in the season opener in Brisbane.

 

Raonic believes he can be ready for Saturday’s semi-final after such a momentous win.

 

He said: “I think I have a good understanding of what I need to do against Roger. Obviously that’s the easiest part, understanding it, rather than doing it. But I think the last three times we have played I have sort of been able to change course a little bit, especially when it was important to me in Paris. Even the other two I didn’t play well at the start of the matches, in London and in Brisbane, but I was able to find a way to fight myself back into those matches and give myself some opportunities.

 

“I’ve just got to keep calm, keep collected, and just try to figure out solutions and adjustments as they come.”

 

The ATP semi-finals will be played on Saturday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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Old Guard Shine Once More

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

(March 19, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – We could be heading for a Serena Williams / Jelena Jankovic final after the Serbian continued her strong run of form at the tournament she won back in 2010. Always reliable for a chuckle in press, she walked in with a heavy sigh as if she had lost, before joking about how she and Williams had been high-fiving each other at their achievements this week.

 

In a week where the WTA Rising Stars rose up for a fraction of a time to dispatch top seeds, the old guard have reasserted themselves, and we were almost entertaining three players over the age of 30 in the semi-finals.

 

Jankovic’s passage into the final was quick, as Ukrainian qualifier Lesia Tsurenko sadly struggled throughout their quarter-final with an ankle injury she picked up in the previous round, and retired to hand Jankovic a 6-1, 4-1 win.

 

“It’s never nice to end a match in that way. I think Lesia has had such a great tournament and she has beaten so many great players throughout the draw. I knew it was going to be a tough match today. In the first set I think we played well. I didn’t see some problems. I was feeling pretty good out there. I was playing my game and waiting for my chances to execute. I was solid.”

 

She continued: “In the second set she started limping and I saw that she had some problem. You know, that’s the time as well I lost a little bit of my focus. I was kind of looking at what she was doing. It was crucial for me to win that game at 2‑1, because who knows what would happen if it was 2‑All.”

 

Defending champion Flavia Pennetta was not so lucky though, starting slowly against Sabine Lisicki before finally starting to play a bit better. After her overwhelming emotions at beating World No. 2 Maria Sharapova, she had to battle once more from a set down to keep her defence alive, even saving a match point on the way to leveling the match.

 

The tides turned in the decider, as Pennetta had her chances to close out the match, but Lisicki, who had never won in Indian Wells, edged her for a place in the semi-final 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) . The crowds gathering for the night match were treated to a spectacle, and the semi-finals ought to live up to that as Serena Williams will face gritty Simona Halep in the final night match on Friday, with Jankovic and Lisicki opening up the show.

 

Meanwhile the men’s quarter-finals got underway with Andy Murray thwarting Feliciano Lopez. The Spaniard could not get a break (quite literally) as Murray quietly and efficiently dismantled his serve and rendered his coming forward moot winning 6-3, 6-4.

 

He explained: “I don’t have as much trouble with the lefties just because I grew up playing with one, and that’s obviously one of his biggest advantages. I thought I played a good match. Every time he came to net I made it very difficult for him. I passed very well, and that was important, because it meant that he spent more time at the back of the court.

 

“When we were in the baseline rallies, I felt like I was able to dictate a lot of those points. Passing shots were important today.”

 

With the disappointing news that Bernard Tomic had withdrawn officially with a back injury, but also troubled with a wisdom tooth, defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic gets a walkover into the semi-final, but after struggling against him last year, Murray believes he has a chance to redress the balance.

 

He said: “He’s played extremely well here in the past. You know, he will be totally fresh as well and ready for the semis, so it will be a tough one for me. But I feel like I played well this week, and, you know, if I can keep that level up and for a sustained period on Saturday, I’ll have a chance.”

 

The men’s quarter-finals conclude on Friday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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For the Good of the Sport

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

(March 18, 2015) The women’s side of the draw flipped on its head once more as the young up and coming pack started to fall away after some famous wins this week. Gone was Caroline Garcia, who felled Ana Ivanovic, while Jelena Jankovic hit one more for the oldies when she dispatched Belinda Bencic to book her place in the quarter-final.

 

But perhaps the biggest surprise was Lesia Tsurenko defeating Genie Bouchard, whose come-back had been going quite swimmingly until that point. And she’s going to be one to watch as she faces the 2010 champion Jankovic next. The Serbian is playing some really solid tennis at the moment, perhaps buoyed by a great win over the very hard-hitting Madison Keys, but she can also come undone fairly spectacularly when she’s up against a player she has not played before. We could expect all kinds of potential tantrums on court, but it still will have been her best result for quite some time.

 

Serena Williams finally ended the great run of Acapulco and Monterrey champion Timea Bacsinszky, and while she admitted she could almost see the trophy in her hands (the first American to win it since her victory in 2001) she acknowledged that she had still a way to go.

 

She said: “I think it will be really good. It’s a good surface for her. I feel like she can definitely come out here, and when we play, play really well. Hopefully I can start playing better. “

 

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

But maybe, and perhaps disappointingly, the focus at the start of the day was more on the news that Wayne Odesnik had been caught again on a doping charge, despite protesting his innocence. He was caught in two samples, and in light of his two year ban in 2010-2011 for being caught with a growth hormone and medical materials in his possession, he was banned for 15 years, and thus announced his retirement from the sport.

 

Needless to say there are not many offering to give him a handshake for his “achievements” (if a world ranking of No. 77 and no titles are to be celebrated).

 

Andy Murray tweeted “Good riddance” and called into question, quite reasonably, if one had been caught once, why would you do it again?

 

He said: “He’s been linked to a number of people that have been involved in doping presently and in the past and surrounded himself with those people, so I can’t say I’m surprised.   To have three separate issues is ridiculous. It’s good that he’s off the tour now.”

 

 

Rafael Nadal was a touch surprised to hear the news but broadly agreed, saying: “I really don’t know about him, so it’s difficult to say one or another thing. But obviously when that happens twice, you don’t deserve to be on the tour.”

 

Quarter-final action continues on Thursday.

 

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

 

 

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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal Advance at Indian Wells

 

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

(March 17, 2015) World No. 2 and four-time Indian Wells champion Roger Federer avenged his Australian Open third round loss to Italy’s Andreas Seppi with a 6-3, 6-4 victory on Tuesday night. Rafael Nadal also advanced with a 6-4, 6-2 win over American Donald Young. Both men have moved on to the round of 16.

“It absolutely was an opportunity right away to play him again and sort of erase it to some extent from the memory as the season moves forward,” Federer said of the 82-minute match “It’s one of those matches you’re happy you’re through, and I was happy it was over.”

In the all-lefty match-up, Nadal said: “I feel confident that I am playing much better than one month and a half ago.”

“I feel closer to be what I am, what I want to be, and it’s a positive victory for me, and it’s a positive victory for me, another victory. Every victory is important victory for me. Already six matches in a row winning, and that’s a good number.”

The No 3 player will face Gilles Simon in the fourth round.

“He is playing well. He had a good beginning of the season,” The Spaniard said of his future French challenger. “Is true he had some problem in his neck last couple of years, no? He had some injuries there.

“So he’s playing with injuries, with pain, with no continuity is very difficult for everybody. He’s healthy now. He’s playing well. He’s a very dangerous player.”

Federer will play American Jack Sock next.

“Never played him,” said Sock. “I mean, we are friendly. Friendly guy. Talk in the locker room some. Yeah, I’m more excited than anything if I do play him. Obviously Seppi got him in Melbourne.

“But, yeah, if I get a chance to play him ‑‑ I haven’t played one of those, as some people say, those top 4 guys. I haven’t been able to play one in a match. Yeah, I look forward to it, and especially here in the States it would be fun.”

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Maria Sharapova Falls to Defending Champ Flavia Pennetta at Indian Wells

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova

(March 17, 2015) Former BNP Paribas Open champion Maria Sharapova lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to defending champion Flavia Pennetta on Tuesday evening. For the emotional Italian Pennetta it was her ninth straight win in Indian Wells, California.

Pennetta left the court during the first set and cried.

“Sometimes you just need to take everything out,” said Pennetta. “I mean, in the court it’s not easy to do that. I was just trying to keep calm and playing every point.

“But then when I finish the first set I was feeling, Okay, I have to go out.”

“For the first two or three games I was OK,” Pennetta continued “Then it’s coming. Like I never expect. I never do something like that. Normally you go away and you don’t want to stay on the court. But for me was important to just keep calm and try to play. In the end I just play really well.”

The 33-year-old Pennetta hit 34 unforced errors and 15 winners opposed to her Russian opponent with 42 unforced errors and 27 winners to along with 11 double faults.

“Last two times I beat her 2009 and 2011 I think, and every match we play I think was a third set,” said Pennetta. “Every match. Also the two before I lost: 2006 in Wimbledon and another one I don’t remember ‑‑ here.

“It was always really tough and close match. I think for sure, I mean, when you go on the court and you know you lose the last two times you think a little bit more.

“I just try to play in the way I always play against her. I mean, if you give her time you are dead, so you have to hit the ball, try to be aggressive the most you can, and try to go all the time for the good shot.”

I mean, it’s always the way I play, but sometimes when I play with not the big one I’m waiting a little bit more. But with this kind of player you have to take the chance you have, because it’s just coming once. If you wait, they are back.

Pennetta broke the world No 2’s serve twice in the deciding set.

“I don’t think the match starts in the third set,” said Sharapova. “I got off to a good start. Definitely had some chances in the beginning of the second set. Few Love‑40, Love‑30 games.

“Yeah, just didn’t, you know, commit enough. Didn’t take one of those. I think she gained a little bit of confidence after that. She started feeling a little bit kind of fresh breath of air. Started going a little bit more for her serve, for the lines.

“I just felt she got in a really good rhythm. Everything I gave her she was able to hit back solid with pace. She mixed it up. She was seeing the ball a lot better.”

“We haven’t played in a while so it’s tough to compare today’s match to the other ones,” noted the five-time major winner. “Today’s situation, I think it was ‑‑ when you let someone kind of back in, when you’re, you know, there in front of them and, you know, you’re doing the right things ‑‑ okay, maybe I wasn’t playing my best tennis in the first set, but I was competitive enough and solid enough and was doing the right things.

“Just wasn’t able to step up in the key moments in the second.”

Pennetta will play the winner of the Sabine Lisicki/Caroline Garcia match in the quarterfinals.

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Serena Williams Reaches Indian Wells Quarters with Three-set Win over Sloane Stephens

Serena Williams

Serena Williams

(March 17, 2015) Serena Williams overcame 52 unforced errors and nine double faults to stop Sloane Stephens 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old Stephens took a double break 3-0 lead in the opening set, and lost the advantage until the tiebreak, which she dominated 7-3.

“I think Sloane played really well in the first set,” Williams said. “Actually in the whole match. I just made a few errors, but I think she forced me to make those errors.”

The 19-time major champion rallied from dropping the first set in a tiebreak to dominate the final two sets.

From 1-2 down in the second set, Williams won 11 of the next 13 games.

The 33-year-old veteran Williams broke Stephens’ serve three times in the final set. The world No. 1 set up match point with a 128-mph ace and sealed the victory when Stephens netted a backhand.

“I thought I played a really solid first set,” said Stephens. “Obviously I was playing No. 1 player in the world so it was going to be a little tough. She played well in the second and third set.

“You know, you win some, you lose some. It was a good effort by me.”

“I had some chances and opportunities that I didn’t really capitalize on which I should have. Like I said, I was playing No. 1 player in the world. When you don’t take your chances, it could be a little tough.”

Despite only a 51 first serve percentage, Williams hit 14 aces during the match. Stephens hit 13 winners to 36 unforced errors with a 58 first serve percentage.

The two-time Indian Wells champion Williams has now raised her record against Stephens to 3-1, with her only loss coming in the quarterfinals of the 2013 Australian Open.

The world No 42, once as high as No 11 in the world, said she is building on her recent positive results: “definitely a good step in the right direction; looking forward to next week.

“I think I played really well my last three matches, and then today I felt I played really well. You know, I think it was just continuous flowing, and every day it’s getting better.

“So I’m happy with that.”

“I have always thought Sloane can be really great,” said Williams. “I think she’s on the right track. You know, she played really well. She had some very good wins here against two seeds.

“So, yeah, I thought it was a really positive result even today.”

Williams will play Timea Bacsinszky next.

Related article:

Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens Win to Set Up Fourth Round Clash at Indian Wells

 

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Upstarts and Upsets in the second week at Indian Wells

Caroline Wozniacki

Caroline Wozniacki

(March 16, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – As the women’s draw started to fill the brackets for the last of the round of 16, we saw some of the old guard fall foul to the up-and-comers.

First in (and indeed out) was Caroline Wozniacki who met her end to Belinda Bencic. The last time the pair played was in Istanbul last year. Wozniacki was at the start of a tear through the tournaments after an upsetting summer with the collapse of her impending nuptials to Irish golfer Rory McIlroy, and it was the making of the latter half of her tennis year.

However in the way was Bencic who was battered off court that day 6-0, 6-0 in just 44 minutes. In fairness the Swiss had hardly been on a roll since the start of the year, winning just one match in Dubai but she could at least gleefully poke fun at her Istanbul outing.

“The difference was that I won a game!” Bencic joked. “No, I was really happy after the first game I won, obviously, but I think I played more solid today. In Istanbul I had maybe too much respect and I was afraid, nervous. Today I really had a good game plan. I did what I had to do out there. I served well and had some easy points on my serve because of that. It was a solid match.”

Wozniacki had to acknowledge that on the day she had just come across a better player, saying: “Honestly, it was two completely different matches,” Wozniacki told reporters. “She was steady, she took the ball early and she served well, but I just didn’t put three balls in play today. But hats off to her – she took advantage of that and she played well during the important points in the match today.”

Jelena Jankovic

Jelena Jankovic

There was almost another grand old lady of the tour on the ropes as Jelena Jankovic had to fight from a set down to get past the power hitting of Madison Keys 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. As always with Jankovic, humour got the better of her, and why not? She was feeling god, and quite possibly dealt a bloody nose to one of the WTA Rising Stars that felt this had been a winnable match.

Keys smacked Petra Kvitova off the court at the Australian Open, and Jankovic could certainly see why as she explained in her press conference.

“It was like bombs or bullets constantly coming at me for about two‑and‑a‑half hours. I mean, her ball is so strong. It’s such a heavy ball. I think she’s probably, I mean, maybe with Serena. Probably the hardest hitting player out there in this moment.”

At times Jankovic tried to slow the pace down by taking her time to get ready between points, and she joked: “But you would take your time too when those balls are coming at you. What else am I supposed to do?”

316Keys-001

Madison Keys

 

For Keys though, while it was a tough loss she was at least able to find some slight vein of amusement at her tactics against Jankovic who, on her day, can mix up and disrupt play with the best of them, as she assessed her failing backhand.

Ruefully smiling, she said: “Yeah, I’m that person, Oh, I didn’t make it? Let me try it again 37 times.”

She continued: “Because it’s one of those things that as soon as you hit it, That was so dumb; why did I do that? The crosscourt is completely open, yet I try to hit it an inch other the net and I missed it. Again. Let me try it again next point. It’s not smart, for sure. I really wish I could tell you, you know, it’s just because I’m stubborn and I just wanted to make one. If I ever figure it out, you’ll be the first one that I can tell.”

Another seed to fall by the wayside was Ana Ivanovic, who lost for the second time in a row, in as many weeks to Caroline Garcia 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. After a brisk start to the year, Ivanovic has had to deal with a broken toe (from slamming her foot against the shower door) and now an inflamed elbow.

She said: “I have to work because I haven’t been playing lots of matches and so on. I feel like I need to get back in shape. It’s getting better but I feel like there’s a lot of work to be done and then yet I have these niggles here and there that are stopping me.”

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova

With Maria Sharapova restoring some sense of order, dispatching one of the trickier names in the draw, Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3, we close out a day which more or less saw the honours split evenly between the old ladies of the tour and the chasing pack of Rising Stars.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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A Game of Inches and Miles

By Curt Janka

(March 15, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, California – The intrigue of tennis often relies on how well the opponents match up. When talent is comparable, the space between winning and losing can be a couple ticks on a ruler. So was the first-ever meeting between Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios. Looking at the stats alone, it would be difficult to tell who was the victor. Dimitrov won 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6(4), but a mini break here or an inch there could have easily tipped the match in Kyrgios’ favor.

With no breaks of serve in the first set and nearly identical stat sheets, the whole match came down to Dimitrov playing more levelheaded tiebreakers. The lively court and sometimes-tricky breeze may have made it tougher for either player to break serve. “I thought it was really bouncy today,” said Kyrgios. “I found it incredibly tough to return, and he obviously wasn’t comfortable at all returning my serve. It was just tough conditions. A bit windy at times.”

Dimitrov did, in fact, struggle to crack his opponent’s serve. “I think he’s tough to read, and especially when the court is very lively, like today,” Dimitrov explained. “, I think it was just a matter of a few points, and definitely my mental side was better I think in the end.”

Ultimately, an ankle roll immediately before Kyrgios served for the win in the third set may have decided the match. When asked if the unlucky injury contributed to his loss, Kyrgios said, “It obviously played a big part in me not serving out the match because I had not really been broken before that.”

In stark contrast, Serena Williams and Roger Federer outdistanced their overmatched opponents by huge margins. Williams appeared listless for most of the match, but did not expend much effort to brush off Zarina Diyas 6-2, 6-0.

“It definitely felt back to normal out there,” Williams said. “Just trying to feel the rhythm and trying to focus on the ball more than anything else.”

Federer also appeared a bit off rhythm at times, but still coasted to a 6-4, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman.

“I’m moving well, which is key on this surface because the easy shots and easy points are not going to happen so easily here like they maybe do in Dubai or Australia or the indoor season,” Federer said.

Curt Janka is covering the BNP Paribas Open this week. Follow his updates on twitter at @TennisNewsTPN. Follow his personal twitter @CurtJanka.

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A Sense of Normality in the Desert

Photos by Curt Janka

 

(March 14, 2015) INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Not that we want to gloss over the important or emotional resonance of the return of Serena Williams, but in the 24 hours that followed that match, there was a sense that we were almost back in business.

For the whole week the anticipation leading up to the match everything had been focused on Friday night, but now it felt like we were all back to normal. There were some entertaining tussles – the battle of the fist-pumpers as an older and wiser Ana Ivanovic took on a feisty Yulia Putintseva.

There was the predictable sweep through of defending champion Novak Djokovic as he started his campaign against former Top 10 player Marcos Baghdatis, who seemed to enjoy the kiss-cam antics of TV screen director at the change of ends.

But one match hat stood out was Victoria Azarenka’s albeit straight-forward result and the mouth-watering prospect of a third round clash with Maria Sharapova. Her come-back has been much anticipated and few can forget the almost pitiful site of her struggling to even stand much less run about and swing at a ball this time last year at Indian Wells.

But it’s more than that. Asking her about her earlier come-back during last year’s grass court season, it as clear that she has been so completely frustrated by not being out on court and she admitted that her return had been too early.

She said: “When I came back to Eastbourne I don’t think I was fit enough to play at all. But I wanted to play. It’s been such a long time. It was one of the lessons that I had to learn, that I didn’t prepare well. Preparation is the key to really go out and play and be confident and actually be happy on the court.”

 

The Azarenka we see now seems to be very much happier with the world, after admitting she had gone through some dark times personally in her time off the court.

 

She elaborated: “If you know that you put in work, you feel good, you can enjoy it. Tennis is really my passion. You go in life through some tough moments on and off the court, but in the end of the day you just really need to figure out what you want to do in life and what you enjoy.”

 

When she faces Sharapova in the third round, she will be up against another fighter who had a long haul back from potentially career threatening injuries. In Stuttgart last year she explained how coming back and playing after possibly contemplating the end of her career made every achievement special. There is a sense that Azarenka has reached that same stage of thinking compared to the drive “must work harder” mentality that seemed to weigh her down more last summer.

 

Right now the Belarusian is the one person players must dread in the draw as she continues her climb back up the rankings, and pretty soon she will be back in the upper echelons but she has a sense of gratitude that for now, she has to get there the hard way.

“Every day is beautiful. Every day I think is a blessing, so I just try to approach it that way. Tennis has given me so much to be grateful for that I cannot be, you know, sad that I’m on the court in front of a great crowd in this the big tournament. I cannot be ungrateful.”

 

On Sunday the last of the ATP second round matches will be done, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will have their own campaigns underway, and it feels now as though the tournament is really getting started.

 

The only upset, if we could call it that, was the departure of Marin Cilic. The US Open champion played his first match in 2015, losing to Juan Monaco, but his loss opened up the thorny question of his participation in the IPTL exhibition league last year.

 

He maintained, however, it had not been an issue for him, saying: “I played there six, seven matches and didn’t hurt me that much. Then later it took pretty long time to get back and to reheal it. And even if I would know this I would probably skip playing Masters end of the year, Tour Finals. But at that time I didn’t know it’s going to take really that long.”

 

A quarter of his year has been lost, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has yet to make his return, having been injured during the Davis Cup final, only to show up on the IPTL for the duration of the tour. Even Ana Ivanovic admitted during the pre-tournament press obligations that the winter had been a long haul, although she really seemed to flourish under the format.

 

And yet inevitably we return to Williams. It is almost a relief to see she has been scheduled in the afternoon on Sunday and not just the night matches every time. The conditions are hit and humid and during the day those balls zip about like fluffy day-glo missiles, but in the evening when it is a little cooler, the conditions change. She may have said she feels she has won already just by being here, but she is a born competitor, who needs to get the ‘W’ on the scoresheet come what may. Roll on Sunday.

Ros Satar is a British sports journalist and a writer at Livetennis.com.

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