Review: BNP Paribas Open 2011

As promised last week, the column returns with a review of all the action from the final few rounds of the “fifth Slam”: the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, California.  It’s a day later than usual but the men’s final didn’t finish till after 11pm last night, and luckily it (and the ladies’ final) was worth staying up for.

QUARTER FINALS

In what turned out to be a terrific men’s singles draw, the top three seeds all advanced to the final stages.  Second seeded Swiss Roger Federer showed no mercy in dismissing fellow countryman (and doubles partner) Stanislas Wawrinka in straight sets, while sensational Serb Novak Djokovic continued to steamroll all opposition by putting a stop to a spirited return to form from former French prospect turned (alleged) casual drug user Richard Gasquet.  Top seed Rafael Nadal showed some signs of shakiness in dropping a set to big Croat Ivo Karlovic, and resurgent former top 5-er Juan Martin del Potro was granted a spot in the semis without breaking a sweat after 25th seed Tommy Robredo withdrew due to injury.

Over on the ladies’ side, the competition looked much more open with only three top 10 seeds left in the quarters.  The match between two of them – world #1 Caroline Wozniacki and her eighth seeded pal Victoria Azarenka looked to be the pick of the bunch but unfortunately ended after just three games to the Dane when Vika pulled out injured.  The pair also showed some solidarity for earthquake-hit Japan by presenting a signed flag on court.  Elsewhere in a somewhat unexciting draw, Maria Sharapova struggled through against Peng Shuai, Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer made short work of tenth seed Shahar Pe’er, and Marion Bartoli ended the renewed hopes of former #1 and fan favourite Ana Ivanovic.

SEMI FINALS

For tennis purists, the men’s semi final line-up was a sight to behold.  First up, a determined Rafael Nadal back from injury since bowing out of the Australian Open, against the hungry Juan Martin del Potro with the bigger point to prove that he deserves to be reconsidered among the game’s big names.  It was the top seeded Spaniard who prevailed 6-4 6-4 to book his spot in the final against the winner of arguably the most anticipated match of the tournament: Novak Djokovic versus Roger Federer.  Beaten by Nole in the past two Slam semis, as well as the final in Dubai last month, the Swiss maestro had a fair case for revenge, as well as the small matter of his #2 ranking to protect.  In a scintillating contest that could have gone either way, Djokovic triumphed 6-3 3-6 6-2; his third consecutive victory over the Swiss and 17th overall this year – equalling Pete Sampras’ all-time record.

The ladies semi-finals were a great deal more one-sided in terms of both on-court action and off-court attention.  Barely anyone seemed to notice or care that Marion Bartoli dropped just four games in dismantling the infuriatingly inconsistent Yanina Wickmayer 6-1 6-3 to reach her first WTA final in two years.  In contrast, the media made much ado of the glamour tie between Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova, two of the sport’s more popular pin-ups.  Unfortunately the battle didn’t live up to its billing as the current #1 schooled the former 6-1 6-2 in hardly any time at all.  Sharapova must be looking on in envy as her career remains stuck in a rut while Wozniacki’s soars.

THE FINALS

As is customary in tennis, the most polite of sports, it was ladies first on Sunday.  Great Dane Caroline Wozniacki had a relatively easy route to the final and was competing for a 14th tour title, while underdog Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli surprised the crowds by reaching her biggest match since her anomalous appearance in the 2007 Wimbledon final (which she lost to Venus Williams).  Not unreasonably, everyone expected a Wozniacki whitewash.  Thankfully, after a decidedly dull draw thus far, it turned out to be so much more.  Bartoli might look twice her age but she showed a depth and tenacity to her game – as well as amazing movement around the court – to knock the Dane of balance and even things up by stealing the second set.  In the end, though, it was Wozniacki’s mental stamina that saw her through to claim arguably her biggest title yet.  She has certainly justified her #1 standing but she could now do with a Slam to cement it.

With the ladies’ final surprisingly plentiful in rallies and range, it was then up to Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to close the tournament in similar style.  What style indeed.  Both players could more than justify their places in the final but Djokovic had had a significantly tougher route with Nadal having played not a single seed so far.  In the end, this appeared to factor, as after just dropping the first set, Djokovic got into his stride.  Throughout the second and third sets he asked all the questions and Nadal came up short with answers.  The Serb moved just that bit better, ran just that bit faster, and caught the lines just that bit neater to topple the Spaniard and claim victory.  While Nadal is yet to win a title this year, Djokovic has won three.  He has a record-breaking 18 consecutive wins, he has a 100% winning record this year and he now has the #2 ranking – though this performance suggests he is in fact one better.

Martin McGale

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