The Biggest Hits From Indian Wells 2019
Djokovic Ousted Early
By winning the Australian Open in such dominant fashion at the start of the season, Djokovic had captured the attention of the tennis world once again. It was reasonable to expect a continuation of his near perfect form, but the reality would turn out very different. After a first-round bye, Novak won his first match since the AO against American Bjorn Fratangelo (ATP 128) in 7-65 6-2. Although this was his 50th win in the Californian desert, things looked tough for the Serbian in the first set. Fratangelo had managed to break his serve early and then again to obtain a mini-break at 4-5 in the tie-break. In his typical fashion, though, Djokovic was impeccable in the big moments and followed it up by taking the second set went smoothly.
On Tuesday, Philipp Kohlschreiber awaited him in the third round. The 35-year-old German had gained a lot of confidence in his first two matches, against Herbert and the in-form Kyrgios. He had dismissed the latter in a quick 6-4 6-4 and looked to be in good form. The odds, however, still weren’t in his favor. The H2H record against Djokovic read 1-8, and he was a discouraging 0-11 against No. 1 players. Djokovic was leading 1-0 in the first set as the players got on court for the second time, after a suspension due to rain. Kohlschreiber quickly started pushing the Serbian star back, winning the first set, and gaining two breaks in the second to serve for the match at 5-2. At that moment, Novak seemed to wake up, breaking back with some awesome deep groundstrokes. But it was too little, too late, as the German sealed the match and his place in the next round. He had found the perfect strategy to keep the World No. 1 on his back foot, winning the match after 1h 38 min. In an interview afterwards he revealed his thoughts: “I think I used a pretty good strategy on the court: I played very clever. On certain strokes, I took a lot of pace out of the balls, and then I came back to the more aggressive part.”
What does this mean for the Miami Open that’s just around the corner? We know two things for sure: Novak Djokovic isn’t the invincible god of hardcourt tennis, and every player will be glad they don’t have to face Kohlschreiber for this title.
Monfils continues his stellar performance, until…
The first months of 2019 made tennis fans around the world smile, as crowd-pleaser Gael Monfils returned to the courts in excellent shape. He beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in Bulgaria, with the Greek riding high after defeating Roger Federer at the Australian Open. He won the Rotterdam ATP 500 tournament, leaving Goffin, Medvedev and Wawrinka in the dust. He arrived at Indian Wells with a 12-3 season record and his typical confident smile. ‘La Monf’ was ready to give his all at the most prestigious Masters 1000 tournament.
After a bye in the first round, Monfils faced Leonardo Mayer. This would turn out to be the toughest match of the week for the Frenchman, as he came out on top after a 6-4 3-6 6-3 victory that lasted a full two hours. Albert Ramos-Vinolas was up next, but by this time, nothing could stop Monfils—he kept his cool and won a whopping 75 percent of the second serve return points, sending his opponent home in a crushing 6-0 6-3. But Sliderman, as his fans like to call him, was just getting started. Remember Philipp Kohlschreiber, the guy who had beaten Djokovic? Monfils wasn’t impressed and took to the court with total coolness. In what many regard as one of his best matches ever, he pushed the German to the limit and beat him 6-0 6-2. In these 58 minutes of domination, he never faced a single break point. Everyone was looking forward to a face off against Dominic Thiem, that other outsider looking for his first Masters 1000 title. But on matchday, Monfils came out to tell his fans this: “I tried to warm up and my left Achilles was very painful for a couple days…. I’m so sorry, guys, to put you in this situation, and I so thank you for everything you gave me this week and, again, I’m sorry.”
I was, personally, very sad to see Monfils leave the tournament in this way, the match against Thiem could have changed the entire tournament. Although it’s a tough one for the Frenchman, at least we’re sure he’s looked after lovingly by his new girlfriend, Elina Svitolina.
New stars are born in the doubles department
The doubles scene at Indian Wells is truly unique: this year, 20 of the 32 seeded singles players competed in the doubles tournament. Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini deserve an honorable mention, as they battled their way into a semi-final. This paragraph isn’t about the single super-stars though—it’s about two lesser known doubles specialists. Nikola Mektic and Horacio Zeballos teamed up after their usual partners got injured last season. Before Indian Wells, they had only played one tournament together: the ATP 500 tournament of Rio de Janeiro. They got ousted in the quarter-finals after an incredibly close 6-4 6-7 10-12 match against Nicolas Jarry and Maximo Gonzalez. Understandably, they weren’t at all the favorites in California; that role went to Australian Open champions Mahut and Herbert, and 2018 year-end No. 1’s Marach and Pavic. But the tennis world is full of surprises, as Mektic and Zeballos would wind up beating both of these teams.
After a pretty easy win Kyle Edmund and his compatriot Neal Skupski, the draw looked incredibly tough for our underdogs, they would have to beat the first, fifth and third seeds to reach the final. But one point at a time, Mektic and Zeballos managed to pull this stunt off. They survived two match points in the second round and a close super tie-break in the quarter finals. The duo provided the crowd with some incredible net plays in an exciting 7-6 7-6 victory over third seeds Marach and Pavic, to finally claim their spot in the final. At the other side of the court stood, completely confident in their ability, Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo. This pair, who had been playing together since 2016, had since won Wimbledon and had claimed the 2017 No. 1 doubles ranking. Kubot and Melo started off dominantly, breaking the unseeded duo in the first game, but they were themselves broken shortly afterwards. Undeterred, the experienced couple broke Mektic and Zeballos once more to go up 4-2 and held on to take the first set 6-4. Surely, the second one would follow soon. But the Croatian/Argentinian team fought back and defended their service games with passion. After a little over an hour, the scoreboard read 6-4 4-6. A match tie-break would decide who would lift the Indian Wells doubles trophy. The young pair showed they were mature enough to stand up to the pressure and lost just three points in the tie-break.
They couldn’t believe it either, during the ceremony Mektic could only stutter: “Oh my God, we’ve won Indian Wells!” I’m sure we’ll see these two players pair up more often, and I’m looking forward to seeing them perform at the Grand Slam stage.
Thiem defeats Federer to win his first Masters 1000 title
This is, surely, the biggest surprise of the entire tournament! At first glance, it just doesn’t add up. On one side, we have Roger Federer, arguably the greatest tennis player to have ever lived. He had played an easy draw, never had to go the distance and received a walk-over in the semi-final due to Rafael Nadal’s injury. On the other side, we have Dominic Thiem, a up and coming player who had proved to be great on clay but had yet to win his first Masters 1000 tournament. He had faced tough opponents like Karlovic and Simon, and had just played 36 grueling games against Milos Raonic. Furthermore, Thiem had never defeated Federer on hardcourt. Knowing all of this, the bookmakers put Federer at just $1.30 to take his sixth Indian Wells title. Boy, were they wrong…
Thiem had one thing going for him all tournament long: his serve. He had only been broken twice in five matches, and his high-bouncing second serve was a well-oiled machine. But as we all know, Roger Federer isn’t just an average tennis player. He broke the Austrian’s serve twice in the first set, and only lost his own once. After just 37 minutes, the Swiss was up 6-3. Fun fact, Federer hadn’t lost a final after winning the first set since 2014. Thiem was very eager to break that streak, though. As Roger missed five first serves in a single game, his young opponent took advantage to take the break and go up 4-1. “The Dominator” kept his calm and served the set out leaving the scoreboard at 6-3 3-6. In the deciding third set, both players upped their game one more time and threw everything at each other. They reached 3-4, and Thiem survived some crucial break-points by tuning his signature cannonball backhands to perfection. In the eleventh game of the set, Thiem chased down Federer’s cheeky drop shots and broke the Swiss’s serve again. In his typical focused fashion, he didn’t show an inch of doubt while serving for the championship. After two hours of top-level tennis, Dominic won 3-6 6-3 7-5.
Thiem had caught the attention of tennis fans a couple of times in the past. Often, that was with his grinding playing style on clay courts. The last month tough, he’s shown us he can beat the best players on a hardcourt, and that skill will come in handy on the biggest stage. For once I’ll make an exception to my rule to keep predictions out of my articles: Dominic Thiem will win a Grand Slam in the future. Period.