Novak Djokovic came into the BNP Paribas Open title-less for the first time in four years, but he left with a US$1 million check and his first trophy of the year after beating Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Sunday to win the event a third time.
“Not winning a title and coming here, there were certain doubts,” the Serb said. “I had ups and downs in my concentration in opening rounds, but I managed to stay mentally strong and have that self-belief.”
Federer rallied from a break down and a 5-3 deficit in the third set to force the tiebreaker, but made a slew of mistakes to lose his 33rd meeting with Djokovic.
The Swiss still leads the series 17-16, having beaten Djokovic in the semi-finals at Dubai two weeks ago. The California result will see Djokovic remain No. 2 in the world, while Federer will rise three spots to No. 5 in the ATP Tour rankings.
Federer was trying to win a record fifth title in the Southern California desert and at 32, would have been the oldest Masters 1000 winner since 34-year-old Andre Agassi won at Cincinnati in 2004.
However, Djokovic did not allow him to achieve that feat.
After Federer breezed through the first set in 31 minutes, Djokovic earned the lone break of the second set to go up 5-3 after Federer pulled a forehand wide.
“I know he always comes out confident, aggressive,” Djokovic said. “He doesn’t give you the victory; you have to earn it.”
The Serb got the early break in the third, again on one of Federer’s forehand errors, to lead 2-1. His 180kph ace gave then him a 4-2 lead that he extended to 5-3 with a backhand winner down the line.
However, the Swiss then served a love-game to make it 5-4 and broke Djokovic to tie the set five-all.
In the tiebreaker, Djokovic raced to a 5-1 lead helped by four errors from his rival and closed it out when Federer’s backhand hit the net.
“At the end, he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered,” Federer said.
In the women’s final, Flavia Pennetta routed an injured Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-1 to win the biggest title of her career only a year after the Italian veteran was on the brink of retiring from tennis.
Pennetta’s ranking plunged to 166th in the world in June last year and she had struggled to rebuild her career after having right-wrist surgery the previous August.
Now she is glad she stuck around, saying after her victory in California: “After so many years, so much work and everything, this is the moment I always waited for... It was something I was waiting since long time, and finally I have a good trophy in my hands.”
The only downside was that the Indian Wells crystal trophy was so heavy she could not hoist it up.
The 32-year-old became the third-oldest winner of the tournament after Martina Navratilova, who won aged 33 and again at 34 in 1990-1991. It was Pennetta’s first title since winning at Marbella in 2010.
“We are old, but we still good athletes,” Pennetta said.
As the 20th seed, Pennetta became the lowest seed to win an event that she came into ranked 21st, but is to leave as No. 12 in the world in the WTA Tour rankings.
En route to the title, the Italian overcome top seed Li Na in the semi-finals to set up the final clash with second seed Radwanska.
The Pole was bothered with a left-knee injury in the final and was in tears as she apologized to the sympathetic crowd afterward.
“I just didn’t expect it was going to be much worse today,” she said. “But when the pain is so big that nothing is working — no painkillers, no tape — that means it is bad.”