Failures of favorites
We do not like tennis only for dramatic and spectacular matches, but also for unpredictability and amazing stories. The trophy for women was won by Naomi Osaka, who had never won a WTA tournament before, and for men, the first title in the Masters 1000 was awarded by Juan Martin del Potro. Of course, there were much more surprises in the women’s grid: few people expected to see 20-year-olds Daria Kasatkina and Naomi Osaka in the final before the start of the tournament. Fans and experts first of all discussed how world leaders – Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbinier Mugurusa and Elina Svitolina – would perform. In addition, there were two high-profile returns – Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams. However, out of the above-mentioned six, only one girl came out in her power: Halep, who reached the semifinals.
Mugurusa, who showed herself well during the Middle East series (final in Doha and semifinal in Dubai), sensationally lost to qualifier Sachia Vickery already in the first match. Svitolina, who won altogether in Dubai, retired in the third round. She came across a rather unpleasant and tenacious rival – Carla Suarez-Navarro. Elina did not show her best tennis, but it is also impossible to say that she played badly. The Spaniard won in a hard match 7: 5, 6: 3. Karla later reached the quarterfinals. In any case, one pleasant event for the Ukrainian woman in this tournament happened – she won her 300th career victory. Svitolina will try to open the fourth hundred in Miami. True, her first rival is definitely not going to be easy. She will face either Serena Williams or Indian Wells champion Osaka. Worse than the lot and you can not think of.
Serena is not ready yet
True, Serena is now not at all what we are used to seeing her, and Osaka, after an unexpected and major career victory, may experience both physical and psychological decline. Or maybe both. The youngest Williams held her first official tournament since the birth of her baby and left mixed impressions. She defeated Zarina Diyas and Kiki Bertens with some difficulty, and then lost to her sister Venus. The two sisters’ match was expected with special excitement. They were supposed to meet in the semifinals of this competition 17 years ago, but Venus did not come to court, citing an injury, and Serena in the final with Kim Clijsters was simply booed.
The audience was sure that the sisters identified the finalist on the family advice and just spit on the audience who bought tickets and wanted to watch tennis. In the final, Serena and Richard and Venus, who were sitting on the podium, had to face both racial insults and even threats. As a result, both Williams boycotted the tournament and did not come to Indian Wells for over 10 years. Serena returned to this competition in 2015, and Venus the following year. The interest in them in many ways a historic match was such that one of the ESPN channels, which was not going to initially show the meeting at such an early stage (third round), changed its plans. However, the game itself turned out to be less exciting. The older sister moved better and hit the ball harder, and given that, in principle, the girls have the same trump cards, this was enough to win a convincing victory. Maybe not in number, but in the game – 6: 3, 6: 4.
Khalep did not use the fairy grid
Another mother, Victoria Azarenko, also performed below her capabilities and lost in the second round Sloane Stevens. After winning the US Open for a long time, the American could not win a match at all, but now she is gradually returning, and as for Azarenka, this meeting showed that she still has a lot of work to do. Stevens lost to Daria Kasatkina in the next round and allowed the Russian woman to set a unique achievement: Daria beat all the current champions of the Grand Slam tournaments! Moreover, in the fourth round, Kasatkina defeated Wozniacki again – for the second time in two months. Daria, now working with Belgian specialist Philip Dejas, has reached a new level since the end of last year.
Thus, out of six “big names”, five girls lost in the fourth round or earlier. By the way, we can add here Maria Sharapova, who lost in the first round. True, as it turns out later, the future champion. In this regard, Simona Halep had excellent chances to win: she never had to play with a seeded tennis player during the entire tournament! With all due respect to the following girls, anyone can envy such a path at such a major competition: Christina Plishkova, Dolehide, Wang Qiang, Martich and Osaka. The first four, albeit not without difficulty, the best tennis player in the world won, but lost quite humiliatingly to Osaka – 3: 6, 0: 6. Simona did not succeed and even one of the leading coaches Darren Cahill could not get his ward to show at least something.
Osaka’s main success
In general, the final stage of the tournament was full of rout. Since the quarter-finals, five of the seven matches have been one-sided, with the losing tennis players taking only five games or less. So, Kasatkina knocked out Kerber 6: 0, 6: 2, and in the semifinals she and Venus Williams staged the main match of the tournament. For 2.5 hours, the audience enjoyed a high-quality performance. Venus took power and outings forward, Daria responded with stability on the back line and beautiful combinations. At the end of the match, Williams was clearly tired and played on the moral and strong-willed. Nevertheless, at some point she was two goals away from victory, but still lost – 6: 4, 4: 6, 5: 7.
Perhaps so much costly, both physically and psychologically, a fight in the semi-final influenced the course of the final, even though that Kasatkina had a day of rest. In the decisive match, not a trace of the beauty that she showed on Friday remained. Daria constantly let the sight down, and she made too many mistakes. Osaka quickly won 6: 3, 6: 2 and won the first title of her career. Naomi has never played in juniors and has never won – not alone, not in a pair, not in the ITF, not in the WTA. Apparently, it was because of this that her speech at the awards ceremony was so chaotic and sweet – she just has no experience yet. She began it with the words: “Hi, my name is Naomi Osa … don’t forget” . And then she several times forgot both her sponsors and tournament sponsors. But it was all fun and charming. It is curious that two weeks ago Kasatkina taught Osaka “twieneru” (kick between the legs), and now the girls played with each other for the first time, and the Japanese woman won. True, she did not have to play the “twiner”.
Federer won 17 matches in a row since the start of the season
There were also enough surprises in the men’s category, although in the finals, the first and sixth seeded numbers played, that is, objectively, one of the strongest players. Roger Federer has set another record: for the first time in his career, he won 17 matches in a row since the start of the season! Before the final, he faced difficulties only in one match: with Borna Coric in the semifinals. Horvat was leading with a break in both the second and third sets, but Roger still went further in character. He left his best tennis in the locker room, however, albeit with a creak, he achieved a result. After this match, the well-known analyst Patrick McEnroe allowed himself a rather bold phrase: “Simone Halep needs to watch this game and learn from Federer how to win when little is turned out” .
Roger played much better in the final, but lost. Just the opponent, with all due respect to Coric, was of a completely different level. Del Potro is in great shape now. At the end of February, he won in Acapulco, beating three top 10 players in a row, and now has extended his unbeaten streak to 11 matches. It is interesting that in Indian Wells, a tournament of a higher level compared to Acapulco, del Potro met only one top-10 player, and even then in the final. At the same time, Juan Martin reached the decisive match not without difficulty. He had to win two strong-willed victories over Leonardo Mayer and Philip Kohlschreiber, and in the semifinals he beat Milos Raonic much easier.
Zverev continues to play
As we have already said, the first and sixth seeded players played in the final, but at the same time only three tennis players of the top 16 seeded reached the quarterfinals: Federer, del Potro and Kevin Anderson. Dominic Thiem was injured in the third round (shin edema) and will not play until at least the beginning of clay season. Already in the first matches, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Luca Pouillet, Novak Djokovic and many others lost, and the second seeded Marin Cilic covered the racket after the third round. Most frustrating of all this season is Alexander Zverev, who has already lost four games out of 10. In California, he managed to lose to João Souza after leading 4-1 in the decisive game.
The eliminated favorites allowed Federer and Del Potro to get a fairly easy bracket before the full-time final. Everyone had their own difficulties, but they coped with them and presented the audience with a wonderful performance. In the first set, the Argentinian acted simply amazingly and made only three mistakes. Maybe somewhere the Argentine was holding himself back, but at every opportunity he used his cannon strike from the right. Federer was clearly nervous, dissatisfied with himself and displayed emotions that he usually does not show. He fiercely argued with Fergus Murphy several times.
Federer lost his temper and lost from three match points
In one of the episodes, Roger was unhappy with the fact that the referee on the tower did not correct the lineman and did not record an “out” after the Del Potro serve. Federer even banged his racket on the court where he thought the ball had landed. The Swiss took a replay, and he showed that the shell hit exactly in line. Repetition, by the way, but already different, almost cost Roger a set. At the tie-break of the second game, the Swiss served with the score 6: 5, del Potro did not accept the court, and the referee had already announced “Seth, Federer” , but the Argentine proved with the help of the “challenge” that the serve did not pass. Roger immediately made a double, and a minute later he had to play matchball.
Federer coped with this and still took the set, but celebrated this event in a rather unusual way: shouting something into the crowd or specifically towards the referee … As a rule, the reserved Swiss in this final was very turned on. In the third game, in one of the episodes, Roger hit the Argentinian’s leg with a strong ball, and del Potro looked pointedly towards the opponent. Passions ran high. As for the game, Federer made a break at 4: 4, led 40:15 and earned a double matchball, but then the unprecedented happened again: del Potro played three match points and turned the meeting into a tie-break, which he took very easily.
With a score of 6: 4, 6: 7 (8:10), 7: 6 (7: 2) Del Potro won one of the main victories in his career in a very beautiful, nervous and emotional match. It is pleasant to note that after the game both tennis players hugged warmly. Juan Martin won the Masters 1000 for the first time, but of course he also had a more significant victory at the 2009 US Open. Then, by the way, he also beat Federer in the final. Roger has won 69 victories and suffered six defeats since 2017. This is an excellent indicator in any case. Interestingly, in three of the six matches that Federer lost, he had match points – with Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai, with Tommy Haas in Stuttgart and del Potro in Indian Wells.
Well, the beautiful and intense tournament in California is over. The tennis caravan is now heading east. This week, two more major competitions will start in Miami: Premier Mandatory for women and Masters 1000 for men.