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Isner upsets Djokovic, Federer boots out Nadal at Indian Wells
SUNDAY, 18 MARCH 2012 19:34 BILL DWYRE / LOS ANGELES TIMES
INDIAN WELLS, California—Saturday was a day in the desert when the tennis was as quirky as the weather. Quirky, of course, isn’t always bad.
It was expected to be a day at the BNP Paribas Open that would showcase the top three players in the world and celebrate the first Indian Wells match in the celebrated rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In life and tennis, things don’t always go according to plan.
The most celebrated of the day turned out to be a tall guy with legs like stilts and a baseball cap turned backward. Federer and Nadal were supposed to turn the tennis world on its ear here, but it was John Isner who did that.
In an opening men’s semifinal match, played under mostly sunny skies and in front of a boisterous, pro-American crowd announced at 16,581 in a stadium that lists its capacity as 16,100, Isner beat the No. 1 player in the world, Novak Djokovic, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 7-6 (5).
The six-foot-nine University of Georgia graduate battled the usually impenetrable Serbian for two hours and 45 minutes. In the third-set tiebreaker, he got to his second match point with a 144-mph serve that, stunningly, Djokovic managed to get his racket on. Then, on his fourth match point, Isner finished it with a 135-mph ace, one of his 20.
Djokovic, who had frequently looked to the heavens in search of help in handling the rocket serves, admitted afterward that he sometimes also took a peek at the scoreboard to see Isner’s service speed.
“Sometimes just to admire,” Djokovic said, “because I will never get there.”
Moments after Isner had walked to the center of the court and acknowledged the fans who, he said, pulled him through, raindrops started falling. Instead of Federer and Nadal playing around 2:30 p.m., they would begin at 5:30. The mostly sunny day in the desert turned cold and ugly, Indian Wells suddenly more like Indianapolis.
The historic Federer-Nadal match was its own kind of quirky, even with Federer winning in what appeared to be an easy 6-3, 6-4. Nadal was seeded second and is usually favored these days against everybody but Djokovic. He had played Federer 27 times, winning 18.
But from the start, the 30-year-old Swiss swinger with the record 16 Grand-Slam tournament titles was clearly superior. It didn’t look like Nadal wanted to be out there, and it didn’t look like Federer wanted to be anywhere else.
The wind swirled and the fans who had sat comfortably in the sun four hours earlier now huddled in warm coats and blankets. Federer pounded Nadal’s backhand, floated around the court like a 25-year-old Federer had, and oozed confidence.
“He started the match playing more than unbelievable,” Nadal said.
As the match progressed, the wind got worse and bothered Nadal more. But, while admitting that, he also said, “The wind is not the excuse. The real excuse is that he played better than me.”
Twice the match was stopped when enough rain had fallen to make the court slippery. Both times, the players were sent back out after a short delay. But the second time may rank high on the all-time tennis drama meter.
Federer had served for the match at 5-2 and was broken. He had gotten to within two points of the match on Nadal’s serve at 3-5. Then, serving for the match again at 5-4, he got to match point after a long baseline exchange.
But before Federer could serve, the chair umpire stopped play again and had the ball kids wiping off the lines with towels. It took only three or four minutes, but one can only imagine what was going through Federer’s mind as he sat, bundled in a towel.
Actually, TV courtside announcer Pam Shriver asked him that, just moments after he had shed the towel, stepped to the service line and cranked a grand-finale 125-mph ace.
During the delay, were you plotting where you were going to serve, Shriver asked.
“I was thinking of hitting it up the T [middle of the court],” Federer said, “but then I got to the toss and decided to take it wide.”
Even with the Federer-Nadal history and drama, Isner stole the day. His victory was the first by a US player over a world No. 1 since James Blake beat Federer in the Beijing Olympics quarterfinals in 2008. If Isner beats Federer in Sunday’s final, it will be the first men’s singles title at Indian Wells by a US player since Andre Agassi in 2001.
Isner not only hit 20 aces, but he got his first serve in 74 percent of the time and had zero double faults. In the seventh game of the final set, when he faced a break point, he hit consecutive serves of 143, 143 and 139.
“It’s frustrating,” Djokovic said, “when somebody serves over 70 percent, and with that angles and speed and accuracy.”
Isner said, “As long as I was playing aggressively...whether I win or lose, I was going to be happy with the result.”
The weather forecast for Sunday is for warmer temperatures and reduced chances of rain and wind.
The forecast for the tennis—with Federer playing like the Federer of old, and Isner hitting serves that threaten to break the speed gun—is for heated competition.
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INDIAN WELLS, California – The top two women in the world reached the Indian Wells final Friday as Victoria Azarenka eased through in straight sets while Maria Sharapova advanced when her opponent retired with an injury.
World number one Azarenka extended her season-long match win streak to 22-0 by beating German Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-3 in a semi-final match on centre court.
Russia’s world number two Sharapova, who won the 2006 Indian Wells title, advanced to Sunday’s final when a distraught Ana Ivanovic retired from the other semi-final with a hip injury.
They meet in the first final involving the top two ranked women in the world since 2008, when No. 1 Justine Henin played No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova.
“She (Azarenka) is the one to beat right now and is playing some amazing tennis and is full of confidence,” Sharapova said. “I hope I go out Sunday and just play some good tennis.”
Reigning Australian Open champion Azarenka has three titles already this year and has now reached the final of her last six tournaments.
“I am so excited because this is the first time for me to be in the final. I love to play here,” she said.
Azarenka’s win streak is the longest on the WTA Tour since 1997, when Martina Hingis won 37 in a row. Serena Williams had a 21-match win streak in 2003.
Friday’s night matches on centre court were played in cool and windy conditions as forecasters are predicting rain showers on Saturday when the men are scheduled to play their semi-finals.
“It made it a little more interesting,” Azarenka said of the wind. “A little adversity and a challenge for us.”
Azarenka, who won 70 percent of her first-serve points, needed 88 minutes to beat Kerber. She broke Kerber’s serve in the final game of the match and on match point Azarenka hammered a cross-court forehand that Kerber returned long.
Kerber had five double faults, held her serve just four times and was broken six times in the match.
“I had some chances,” Kerber said. “I didn’t get it done. But she’s a great player and she plays very good in these moments.
“I did everything I could today. But she was better.”
Azarenka pulled out of last year’s Indian Wells tournament after getting injured in her quarter-final against Caroline Wozniacki.
She suffered the hip injury just 10 minutes into the match while stretching to try and return a shot.
This year it was Ivanovic who was forced to retire with a sore hip. Sharapova was leading 6-4, 0-1 when Ivanovic told the chair umpire she couldn’t continue.
“It is very disappointing to finish it this way,” Ivanovic said. “In the end it just wasn’t about tennis, it is sad.”
Ivanovic called for an injury timeout late in the first set with Sharapova leading 5-4. The 15th seeded Serb left the court with a trainer to get treatment and returned for Sharapova’s final service game.
“I didn’t notice anything was wrong until she called the medical timeout,” Sharapova said. “I would have loved to have finished the match in the right way.”
Ivanovic served to win the first game of the second set but then stopped after they had played just two points of second game.
Azarenka, Sharapova set for Indian Wells’ dream final
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