Saturday, March 21, 2015

Djokovic to play Federer in 'ultimate final'

Novak Djokovic routed Andy Murray 6-2 6-3 in the
semifinals at Indian Wells. Photo by Paul Bauman
   INDIAN WELLS -- Roger Federer is most closely associated with Rafael Nadal.
   After all, Federer owns a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles, and Nadal is tied with Pete Sampras for second with 14.
   But the most compelling rivalry in men's or women's tennis might be Federer vs. Novak Djokovic -- even with Federer approaching the end of his career at 33.
   Djokovic and Federer -- ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, respectively -- will meet for the 38th time and in the BNP Paribas Open final for the second straight year after recording straight-set victories today.
   "It's the ultimate final right now that I can have," Djokovic, 27, said after beating fourth-ranked Andy Murray today by the surprisingly one-sided score of 6-2, 6-3. "He's probably the (opponent) that is in the best form. In the last 12 months, he's been playing some of his best tennis."
   Federer, who defused the powerful serve of sixth-ranked Milos Raonic 7-5, 6-4, said he's "happy I can still hang with (Djokovic). I must be quite honest, because he's in his absolute prime right now, and I enjoy the challenge of him. I hope he enjoys my challenge."
   Sunday's Djokovic-Federer showdown will follow the women's final between third-ranked Simona Halep and No. 21 Jelena Jankovic. ESPN will televise the matches beginning at 11 a.m.   Federer is 20-17 against Djokovic and 10-23 against Nadal. The Djokovic-Nadal rivalry is pretty good, too, but Djokovic has won four of the last five encounters.
   Federer and Djokovic, meanwhile, have alternated winning their last eight matches. The span includes:
   --Djokovic's 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory in last year's Indian Wells final.
   --Djokovic's thrilling 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 win in the 2014 Wimbledon final.
   --Federer's withdrawal in the title match of the ATP World Tour Finals last November because of a back injury.
    --And Federer 6-3 7-5 victory in the last meeting three weeks ago in Dubai, where the Swiss star has a residence.
Roger Federer advanced with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Milos
Raonic. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "He's tough, as we know," Federer said of Djokovic. "He barely misses. He moves great. He makes you go for the extra shot. This is one of the great hard-court players we have seen in tennis."
   With a win on Sunday, Djokovic can tie Federer's record of four Indian Wells singles titles.
    "Of course, it means a lot to me or to any player to make history," said Djokovic, who's tied for eighth with eight Grand Slam singles crowns. "That's (extra) motivation, I can say. It doesn't play a decisive role on how I'm going to approach the match, but it does motivate me."
   Djokovic beat Murray for the sixth straight time, including a four-set victory in the Australian Open in January. This was the most lopsided score in the series, which Djokovic leads 17-8, since the Serb won  6-0, 6-4 in 2008 (not counting a second-set retirement by Djokovic in 2011).
   "I thought I played solid, with the right intensity from the beginning," said Djokovic, who's one week younger than Murray. "Good first-serve percentage (58). Got some free points there in the important moments."
   Murray still is trying to recover from the hoopla surrounding his 2013 Wimbledon title, ending a 77-year drought by British men, and from "minor" back surgery later that year. He trailed 3-0 in each set against Djokovic.
Vasek Pospisil, left, and Jack Sock
won their first Masters 1000 title.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   "That obviously makes it tough against the best players," said Murray, the runner-up to Nadal at Indian Wells in 2009. "Novak didn't give me any free points at the beginning of either of the sets, and I made a few too many errors early on. Then I started to play a bit better and was able to push him a bit but not enough to make it challenging for him."
   Converting only 47 percent of his first serves didn't help, either, against the best returner in the game.
   "I didn't serve so well today compared to how I served for the rest of the tournament," Murray lamented.
   Similarly, Raonic was unhappy with his first-service percentage of 57 against Federer, who ran his record to 9-1 against the 6-foot-5 (1.96-meter) Canadian.
   "I wish I would have served a higher percentage," Raonic said, "but I felt like when I was putting in my first serve I was doing a good job. I don't think I mixed up my second serve enough."
   Federer earned the only breaks of the match at 5-5 in the first set, as Raonic committed two unforced errors from 30-30, and in the opening game of the second set.
   "I'm very happy how well I'm playing," said Federer, who improved to 16-1 this year. "I feel good physically. Obviously, I feel refreshed after (a) holiday. I'm serving well, which is always crucial."
   Raonic wouldn't pick a winner. But he spoke for the tennis world when he said, "It will hopefully be something I can watch."
   In a matchup of teams with one Grand Slam men's doubles each, eighth-seeded Vasek Pospisil of Canada and Jack Sock of Tampa, Fla., edged unseeded Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-4, 6-7 (3) [10-7] for their first ATP Masters 1000 title. 
Sania Mirza, left, and Martina Hingis took the women's doubles crown
in their first tournament together. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Pospisil and Sock won Wimbledon last year in their first tournament together, and Bolelli and Fognini triumphed at this year's Australian Open.
   Top-seeded Martina Hingis of Switzerland and Sania Mirza of India, playing their first tournament together, outclassed second-seeded Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia 6-3, 6-4 for the women's doubles crown.
   All four players are past Indian Wells doubles champion with various partners, and all except Mirza have won at least one Grand Slam women's doubles title (Hingis nine, and Makarova and Vesnina two each). Mirza, at least for now, will have to settle for her three mixed doubles crowns in majors.      

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