Indian Wells 2014: Roger Federer races past Dolgopolov to fifth final
Indian Wells 2014: Roger Federer beats Alexandr Dolgopolov in straight sets to reach the final
When all is said and done, things turned out pretty well for Indian Wells this year.
Considering how top-heavy the men’s draw appeared to be, considering it was soon exacerbated by the withdrawal of Juan Martin del Potro and opening losses by Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to leave Novak Djokovic the only top-10 player in his half by the fourth round, and considering the defending champion Rafael Nadal, plus Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, did not make the quarters in the top half, the sun really did—finally—shine on the tournament come its climax.
Each semi had star power: two-time No2 seed Djokovic in one; four-time No7 seed Roger Federer in the other.
The former would play the top-ranked American, No12 seed John Isner. And to add a little spice to the match, Isner’s two wins among six previous matches came on his hot, hard home courts. One of them was last year in Cincinnati and the other was on this very court in 2012. Both matches took three long, tough sets to resolve, and on both occasions, Isner reached a Masters final.
Isner was showing the same form on his home ground again. Having won Auckland at the start of the year, he arrived in Indian Wells from a semi-final finish in Delray Beach to take out strong opposition, in particular Ernests Gulbis in the quarters, and was guaranteed a return to the top 10 for the first time since that 2012 Indian Wells final.
Federer would take on someone who he recognised as having the same charismatic shot-making impulse as himself, the No28 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. He put it thus:
“We caught up and played some practice matches [in Dubai]. It was really good fun. He was playing really well, he really takes the ball early, he likes to take advantage when there is a short ball—he just smashes it—and he’s got a great serve. He’s super athletic. I think it’s going to be an interesting matchup. We both like to take charge of the point…Definitely going to be some interesting shots out there!”
The slender, nimble 25-year-old Ukrainian was back to playing the exciting brand of tennis that took him to No13 two years ago. He was already the biggest riser in the top 50 this season after a Rio final and Acapulco semi, and in reaching his first Masters semi was sure to reach 24. If he made it past Federer, he would be closer to 20.
He had his work cut out, though: Federer himself was back to playing some of his best tennis since well before injury here last year hit his results and rankings. After winning in Dubai, he was now set to return to the top five, and was the only one of the four not to have dropped a set so far.
If there was a question-mark alongside any name it was perhaps the top-ranked man of the four.
Unusually for the Serb, Djokovic arrived in Indian Wells without a title—though he went out of the Australian Open and Dubai to the eventual champions. He scored his 550th win in his opening match but subsequently lost a set both to the unseeded Alejandro Gonzalez and to the No24 seed Marin Cilic. But his defeat of Julien Benneteau in the quarters took only 68 minutes and he conceded just four games. It looked as though he was coming into form at just the right time:
“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… I have done everything I wanted.”
Federer, though, was in action first, in baking 31-degree heat and very windy conditions that quickly demonstrated the value of experience, footwork, smart tactics and, most of all, an outstanding range of placement serving.
Most of the rallies were short, and in the early stages there was very little between them in the score-line, but gradually Federer read the conditions better while Dolgopolov struggled to find his first serve and was punished on the second. At 4-3, Federer pummelled the Ukrainian’s forehand on four straight points to draw four errors and the break, and then served out a fast-moving 30-minute set, 6-3.
In the very opening game of the second set, Federer threw in a sliced short ball followed by a huge lob to draw a miss-hit smash: all Dolgopolov could do was grin in disbelief as he conceded an immediate break.
Federer consolidated to love, and displayed both resilient defence and explosive attack to drain the Ukrainian’s resistance through a 10-minute fifth game of seven deuces and six break points. The Swiss broke for 4-1, and broke again to close out an unexpectedly easy win, 6-1, in 61 minutes.
It took Federer to a fifth final in the Tennis Garden and he has won the previous four. But who would he play: the man he beat the last time, Isner in 2012, or the man he beat last month in Dubai, Djokovic?
The answer was, two hours later, still a long way off.