Indian Wells 2019: Matches for the ages – Wawrinka, Lopez, Karlovic, and Augur-Aliassime
Stan Wawrinka and Ivo Karlovic are among the older players in action at Indian Wells, with both through to the second round
Roger Federer, five times a champion in Indian Wells, is the oldest to have lifted the men’s trophy in this stunning corner of California, this oasis in the desert fringed by purple mountains.
But he is not alone in keeping the flame of the over-30s burning. Federer’s first match would not, in the event, be against friend Andreas Seppi, age 35: The Italian was beaten by Peter Gojowczyk. But his second could bring another old friend, fellow single-handed Swiss Stan Wawrinka.
The 33-year-old Wawrinka faced Federer in the Indian Wells final two years ago, when the elder champion was in the midst of his storming return to form after knee surgery and a long absence in 2016. For his part, Wawrinka would end 2017 prematurely to undergo double knee surgery himself. So by the time they met again, in Cincinnati last summer, Wawrinka was ranked 151 but took Federer to three tough sets.
And since then, Stan the Man had steadily got his mojo back. Last month, he looked almost like his old Major-winning self with a good run to the final in Rotterdam. He arrived in Indian Wells ranked 40—unseeded, but more dangerous than he had been in a long while.
He opened against another in-form player working back up the ranks after slipping outside 1,000 following a year’s suspension: Daniel Evans.
The hugely talented Briton, also owner of a single-handed backhand, had come to Indian Wells, via qualifying, ranked 100, after reaching his second Tour final in Delray Beach as a qualifier. He also made the Quimper Challenger final and the Indian Wells Challenger semis, and along with qualifying for the Australian Open, had stacked up 19 match-wins.
Should Evans continue his winning ways, he would break the top 90, and he had the chance of repeating his Australian Open encounter with Federer should he make it to the third round.
And with both Wawrinka and Evans finding such good form in recent weeks, this match could be a very tight affair. Their only previous meeting was a four-hour five-setter at the 2016 US Open, when Wawrinka came back from two sets to one down, saving a match-point, in his longest match on the way to the title.
Evans’ all-court game, his determination to attack, slice and dice, play to his own rhythm, got a quick reward, a break for 2-1. Wawrinka, though, hit straight back, breaking out his cross-court backhand, and drawing Evans in to make a volley error.
Evans broke again, 3-2, and again Wawrinka replied in kind, before finally getting a hold, 4-3. Now each stayed firm, until three times Evans had to save break points—set points—but he did so with bold play, serving and volleying, and it earned him a tie-break.
Evans continued to bristle with energy, continued to attack, lost not a moment of focus, and Wawrinka was forced into too many errors. In the blink of an eye, Evans served at 6-3, and an attacking forehand down the line did the trick, 7-6(4).
Wawrinka was fast off the mark in the second, and countered attack with attack. He, too, moved forward, and broke in the third game: He held that advantage through the set, 6-3, keeping up the energy and aggression.
Now Evans needed some attention to his feet: Little wonder he had blisters after so many matches. But he raced through his opening serve to love, matched by Wawrinka. The energy rose in the fifth game, in some wonderful cat and mouse exchanges. Evans slotted a backhand pass and earned three break chances, only to watch Wawrinka turn on the tactical brilliance, probing the Evans backhand, coming to the net, reeling off five points to hold. He roared, the huge Court 2 responded.
The Swiss did the same in the seventh game, resisting Evans to save three more break points, and then got his breakthrough for 5-3. Minutes later, and Wawrinka serve-and-volleyed his way to a love hold, 6-3. It had a quality, high-entertainment contest, packed with winners, and especially from Wawrinka: 40 of them, plus 24/32 net points.
The Swiss next plays No29 seed Marton Fucsovics, with either Federer or Gojowczyk beyond.
In the bottom quarter, two more veterans who had enjoyed much higher rankings would stand toe-to-toe in their openers.
World No78 Feliciano Lopez, just a month younger than Federer, was at his lowest ranking in 12 years, and had won only one match this season—last week in Acapulco—as repeated injuries took their toll. The popular Spaniard was edging towards his new tennis role, as tournament director at the Madrid Masters, but a few more wins under his belt at a tournament that he had played every year since his first in 2003, would surely go down well with his multitude of admirers.
He had faced Tomas Berdych many times since their first in 2004, and the Czech was also ranked unseasonably low, at 81, after a long absence last year with back injury. But 33-year-old Berdych bounced into this season to reach the final in Doha, semis in Montpellier, and the fourth round in Australia.
There was nothing between the Czech and the Spaniard in a first hour-long set: not a break point, and therefore decided by the inevitable tie-break. There, Lopez got the first edge, 3-1, and served out the set, 7-6(3).
Berdych at last worked a break chance in the first game of the second set, but could not convert his two chances, and they stayed on serve. Lopez pressed hard in the 12th game, earning several deuces with his left-handed angles and slice, but Berdych took it to another tie-break.
Lopez pulled off a couple of serve and volley attacks, then an ace, to seize a 5-0 lead, and the Czech would win just two points as the Spaniard scored a special win, with a final volley, his 31st winner, 7-6(2), after almost two hours.
Things get a tougher—a man not only 15 years younger than Lopez but seeded No12 this week, Karan Khachanov. The Russian also won their only previous encounter. But that will not stop the enduring Lopez getting plenty of support as he heads towards the closing stages of his career.
Wins for the oldest…
Ivo Karlovic has been one of the most distinctive players on the tennis tour since he began to make his mark in tournaments 15 years ago.
The 6ft 11in Croat has gone on to build a respectable eight titles from 19 finals during that span, doing it the old-fashioned way, with serve and volley and a one-handed backhand.
His has certainly been a noteworthy career—he reached No14 in the ranks a decade ago, and has made a healthy $10 million over the years—and this week, ranked 89, he scored another significant achievement. He won his first main-tour match since turning 40 in February, and that after reaching his first final, in Pune, in almost two years, the oldest to do so since 1977.
In beating No49-ranked Matthew Edben, 7-6(3), 7-6(3), in an hour and three quarters, Karlovic thereby became the first player age over 40 to win a Tour match since Jimmy Connors in 1995.
As luck will have it, the oldest man in the Indian Wells draw will now play fellow Croat, the No11 seed, Borna Coric, who is just 22 years old. Karlovic won both previous encounters.
…and the youngest
Just as significant a victory came in the other quarter of the top half in Indian Wells: It featured the youngest man in the draw, the only player in the top 100 born in this millennium, and on a notable date: 8 August—the same birthday as Roger Federer.
For this 18-year-old Canadian has been standing out from the crowd for a good while. He won the US Open junior doubles titles with his best friend and compatriot Denis Shapovalov as a 15-year-old, and went on to win the singles title the next year.
By the time he had turned 17, he had two Challenger titles, and was the youngest player to break the top 200 since Rafael Nadal in 2002.
Exactly a year ago, he qualified for his first Masters, in Indian Wells, and like last year, he reached the second round, beating Briton Cameron Norrie in little more than an hour, 6-3, 6-2, with his impressive clean-hitting, big-serving, easy-moving style of tennis.
Following his first ATP final in Rio last week, the charming young Canadian is now on the verge of breaking the top 50. But next up is the stern test of fellow #NextGen star, the charismatic Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who broke the top 10 ahead of Indian Wells after winning his second title in Marseille and reaching the final in Dubai.
Tsitsipas, only 20 years old, has also made waves in a relatively short time, and his expressive, energetic style of play has captured the imagination. Yet the younger Auger-Aliassime won all three of their junior matches, including the semis meeting in that US Open title run. Their first meeting in what may become one of the rivalries of the next decade, is highly anticipated indeed.