Sunday, March 18, 2012

INDIAN WELLS '12: Raja Wins 73rd ATP Title

Roger Federer continued his astonishing run of winning 6 out of 8 tournaments played since losing the 2011 US Open semifinals to Novak Djokovic by defeating John Isner 7-6(7) 6-3 in the final match of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. It was the 16-time major champion's 73rd ATP career title and record 4th title at this location (having previously won in it in 3 consecutive years 2004, 2005, and 2006). He has had 39 wins and only 2 losses in that period (to Djokovic and Isner).

More importantly, the win came one day after he defeated Rafael Nadal on an outdoor hardcourt for the first time since 2005. The 30-year-old now joins Nadal with a record 19 ATP Masters Shields. Federer won a cool $1 million for winning the 2012 BNP Paribas Open.

For American John Isner, his $500,000 finalist paycheck was the largest reward of his relatively short professional career. The 6'9" (or 6'10") player spent 4 years playing tennis at the University of Georgia before turning pro at age 22 four years ago. Isner had won his biggest victory of his career in the semifinal by defeating World #1 Novak Djokovic 7-6(7) 3-6 7-6(5). It was the first time an American male had defeated the reigning World #1 since James Blake beat Federer in the quarterfinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics singles tournament.

The match itself was a nervy, tension-filled affair, with Federer facing (and saving) 3 breakpoints in his second service game of the first set. After that escape, Federer made a conscious effort to hit more winners with his forehand on the first strike. He ended the match with 12 errors and 29 winners (+17), while Isner was at 21 winners and 27 errors (-6).. In the inevitable tie-break, both players showed surprising tentativeness with Federer obtaining a lead and set point on his serve but failed to clinch. It wasn't until his 3rd set point that Federer was able to win the first set when  Isner made a forehand error into the net. The second set was less competitive, as Federer started using the tactic of slicing the ball to bring Isner into the net and passing him at will. Isner chances were also complicated because he never reached the amazing 140mph serving speeds from the day before, and Federer was able to easily serve out the match once he secured the hold.

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