Monday, March 23, 2015

Djokovic overcomes nerves, tops Federer for title

Novak Djokovic tied Roger Federer's record of four Indian Wells titles.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   INDIAN WELLS -- Take heart, hackers.
   Even the best players in the world -- indeed, of all time -- get nervous on the court. Sometimes dental-surgery nervous.
   Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and former No. 1s Roger Federer and Jelena Jankovic all had the yips on Sunday in the finals of the BNP Paribas Open.
   Only Djokovic survived. 
   For the second straight year, Djokovic beat Federer in three sets for the title. This one -- 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 -- wasn't as close as last year's 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) thriller.
   It was the first time in the tournament's 40-year history that the same two men have played in the final in back-to-back years.
   Djokovic's fellow Serb, Jankovic, also has won the BNP Paribas Open. But the 2010 champion, plagued by injuries recently, let Simona Halep off the hook in the second set and finally wilted in a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 loss.
   Halep, 23, became the first Romanian to win a Premier Mandatory tournament, the highest level on the women's tour besides the Grand Slams, and earned the biggest title of her career. She also pocketed $900,400, as did Djokovic, and became the first woman to win three titles this year.   
   Djokovic, in his prime at 27:
   --Became the 12th player in the Open Era, which began in 1968, to win 50 tour-level titles, breaking a tie with his coach, International Tennis Hall of Famer Boris Becker.
   --Equaled Federer's record of four Indian Wells crowns.
   --Became the first man to win Indian Wells twice in a row since Federer reeled off three straight titles from 2004 to 2006.
   "It's kind of a golden era in men's tennis right now, and I'm very proud to be part of it," said Djokovic, who improved to 18-20 against Federer. "I believe that a big part of my success is those matches that I have had with Rafa (Rafael Nadal) and Roger. Those two guys made me a better player."
Simona Halep won the biggest title of her career.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Djokovic had a break point for 5-2 in the second set, but Federer saved it with a service winner and held for 3-4. Federer then broke Djokovic's serve with the help of a double fault at 30-30 for 4-4 and forced a tiebreaker.
   Djokovic double-faulted three times in the tiebreaker, including twice in a row to hand Federer a 6-5 lead. The second-ranked Federer took advantage, closing out the set on the next point to the delight of the announced crowd of 16,988 in 16,100-seat Stadium 1.
   "We are all humans," Djokovic said. "We all fail under pressure sometimes. It's completely normal, even though I have so much experience. Roger, as well.
   "But it's important to bounce back. It's important to regroup, let it go and move on to the next mission."
   Heck, Nadal appears to be a nervous wreck before matches, bouncing his knee up and down while sitting in his chair.
   After the tiebreaker, television cameras caught Djokovic's hand shaking while he took a sip of water.
   "It was exactly what you saw," Djokovic confessed. "So, yeah, it happens sometimes, I guess. The body has reactions and movements that you're not in control of.
   "It was a tough tiebreaker for me. It was frustrating, and I just went through emotions. But I managed to calm down in the third set."
   Not entirely. Djokovic broke serve for 2-0 but handed it right back, double-faulting at deuce and then netting a backhand. On the changeover, Djokovic smashed his racket.
   "I could tolerate the loss of the break in the second set and maybe the tiebreak loss, but I couldn't tolerate that third break that I lost at 2-love," Djokovic admitted. "But you go through these emotional ups and downs. I just said, 'OK, this is it. Let it go. Now I have to focus and stand up in a minute and play my best.' "
Federer addresses the media after losing to Djokovic
in three sets in the Indian Wells final for the second
straight year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Indeed, after Federer held for 2-2, Djokovic won four straight games for the match. Federer double-faulted for 2-4 after leading 40-15. Djokovic's reaction?  
   "He's human, too," Djokovic said, eliciting laughs from reporters. "I felt huge relief, to be honest. I saw I'm not the only one double-faulting under pressure."
   After Djokovic held at 15 on a 130-mph (209.2-kph) ace for 5-2, Federer fell behind 0-30 on his serve and was broken again, this time on a runaround forehand that sailed wide to end the match.
   "It was disappointing to sort of let it slip away, and next thing you know, the match is over," said the 33-year-old Federer, who never mentioned nerves during his news conference. "Novak did well to sustain the lead for most of the match. I think he found an extra gear at the end."
   Jankovic, recovering from a torn leg muscle, wasn't sure she'd be able to play in the BNP Paribas Open. The 30-year-old veteran had only two days of light hitting before the tournament and competed with her right thigh wrapped.
   Jankovic, who built a home in Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, also missed the last three months of 2014 with a back injury. 
   Both Halep and Jankovic are one-time Grand Slam runners-up. Halep lost to Maria Sharapova in last year's French Open, and Jankovic fell to Serena Williams in the 2008 U.S. Open.
   All five matches between Halep and Jankovic have gone to three sets. Halep leads the series 4-1, although Jankovic had match points in two of her losses.
Jelena Jankovic, the 2010 Indian Wells champ, leaves the
court after falling to Halep, top right. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Even though Sunday's contest began at 11 a.m. under overcast skies, it was a grueling affair that featured long rallies and 18 service breaks (nine by each player). The match lasted 2 hours, 37 minutes as the temperature reached a high of 86 degrees (30 Celsius).
   "I don't know how I won today because I didn't play my best," conceded the third-ranked Halep, who compensates for her small size (5-foot-6/1.68 meters and 132 pounds/60 kilograms) with consistency and tenacity. "I just wanted to fight until the end because I think that is the most important thing for my style, for myself."
   Like Djokovic, Jankovic led by a set and 3-1.
   Explained Halep, who advanced to the final when Serena Williams withdrew on Friday night with a knee injury: "The first set was strange for me because I didn't play a match for three days. It's really tough to go straight to the finals."
   Furthermore, Halep took a medical timeout after the first set for foot blisters.
   Jankovic was two points from winning while serving at 5-4, 30-30 in the second set, but Halep won three straight games to level the match.
   "I think at the end of the second set, I got a little bit nervous," the exceptionally friendly, down-to-earth Jankovic, who rose from No. 21 to No. 17 in the new rankings, said in her raspy voice. "I got a little bit tentative, and that was my big mistake. ...
   "We all get nervous. It's part of being a professional athlete. It's just a matter of how you control it. I let those nerves take the best out of me. That shouldn't happen."
   Jankovic, 5-foot-9 1/2 (1.77 meters), lost her last four service games in the second and third sets.     
   "My arm was super heavy," admitted the 5-foot-9 1/2 (1.77-meter) Jankovic, who committed nine double faults overall. "I could not even lift it. I don't know if you guys know, but if you play sports and get nervous, this is what happens. ...
   "I mean, I'm human. I was so excited to (try to) be the champion once again like I did in 2010. Unfortunately, it didn't happen."

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