INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA — Roger Federer will face Juan Martin del Potro for a 25th time in their professional careers in the Indian Wells final on Sunday – a match-up the Swiss describes as an “arm wrestle”.
Federer, the defending champion in Palm Springs seeking a sixth Indian Wells crown, has a long history with Del Potro and leads the tall Argentine 18-6 head-to-head.
But Del Potro has always played him tough and has pulled off the upset over Federer on some of the biggest stages in the sport including a US Open final victory in 2009 for his sole Grand Slam triumph, and more recently a quarter-finals success over the Swiss, also at the US Open, last year.
Before the tournament, Del Potro had told reporters how much he values his rivarly with Federer and that, “if I had to take one match or one opponent to play in a final I would take Roger for sure.”
“Is that a good thing?” asked Federer with a smile when told what Del Potro had said about him.
“I think we have an interesting match-up,” added the 36-year-old Federer.
“We both know what the other is trying to do, and we try to stop the other person from doing it. But it’s hard when me or him is in full flight. It’s basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that.
“We know each other well. I think we respect each other in a big way. We’re both happy for one another, I think, when we do well, generally happy.
“So it’s nice to see him back in the top 10 and making big strides now, and I think he’s going to have a great season. I’m very happy for him.”
Del Potro reached his second career Indian Wells final on Saturday with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Milos Raonic. Back in the top-10 and seeded No. 6 in the California desert, Del Potro is on a 10-match winning streak, having won the title in Acapulco earlier this month, and has notched a 400th career victory to join Guillermo Vilas as the only Argentines in the 400 wins club.
The 29-year-old from Tandil is seeking a first Masters 1000 crown. He was the runner-up here in 2013.
Federer is on a winning streak himself and has started a season with a clean 17-0 record for the first time in his two-decade-long career.
“Took a while. Took a while to get the record,” Federer, who came back from a set and a break down to defeat Coric on Saturday, said with a grin.
“But, no, I’m happy. Look, especially also with the match, it was just a fighting match rather than, like — it didn’t come easy, so I had to go get it. Also got a little bit lucky, of course, throughout the match.
“I hung tough and put a lot of effort into it to get the record, if you like. I mean, you go from one to the next. Clearly, the focus has to be the finals right now and not enjoying the record.
“But it’s nice to get off to a good start this year, and I hope I can play well again tomorrow.”
Roger Federer has taken his undefeated start to the season to a stunning 17-0 for the first time in his career thanks to a battling victory over unseeded 21-year-old Borna Coric in the Indian Wells semi-finals on Saturday.
The Swiss, a five-time champion in the California desert, is one step away from a 28th Masters 1000 title and a 98th career trophy.
Federer is into the final at Indian Wells for a fourth consecutive time (missed the 2016 tournament) but had to do it the hard way as he climbed from 5-7, 2-4 down, and twice canceled a break down in the final set, to secure a comeback win over the Croatian youngster, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hours and 20 minutes.
“I needed to fight a little bit. Trying to keep the ball in play. Borna was incredibly steady. It was tough for me to accept and move on but I was happy to stay in the game and stay in the rally. He got a bit nervous and I got a bit lucky as well,” said the 36-year-old Federer, who was given a rare 11:00am start and joked that he “had pasta at 9:15am”.
The defending champion entered the match having won 38/41 sets contested this year, but that changed when Coric broke late in the opening set to jump to an impressive yet unexpected lead.
The pair were neck and neck throughout the first 10 games before Coric created the first break point opportunity of the match at 5-5. Federer saved it with a good serve but got in trouble moments later. This time Coric converted with a cunning passing shot that dipped low and drew the error from Federer who netted his response.
Serving for the set, Coric went up 40-0 and secured his lead on his second chance.
The young Croat broke to start the second set and consolidated for a 2-0 advantage. He faced triple break point in game four but heroically saved all three to go up 3-1 and deny Federer a chance back in the contest.
The Swiss again had a chance to break in Coric’s next service game but that too slipped away and the youngster maintained his lead.
Federer kept up the pressure on the Coric serve, and this time, the forehand let the Croatian down as he allowed the top seed to finally break back on his sixth break point opportunity of the match.
A netted backhand saw Federer get his hands on two set points on the Coric serve and the world No. 1 leveled the match on an overcooked forehand from his opponent, taking a fourth straight game to force a decider.
Coric broke at love to start the third set but a signature backhand passing shot from Federer helped the Swiss to a break point in game two. The retaliation came immediately and they were back on level terms.
Point of the match!
Federer earns himself a break point at 30-all and he converts, drawing back even in the third vs. Coric.
He then holds, so we’re back on serve — *1-2 Borna serving. #BNPPO18
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 17, 2018
Coric saved a break point to hold for 2-all then got a chance to break in game seven as he drew the error from Federer at the net. The 36-year-old saved it but he hit a wide forehand on the next break point to give Coric a 4-3 lead.
Federer roared in the next game when he out-rallied Coric for break point. A crying baby possibly disrupted Coric and he ended up double-faulting to hand over the break back.
Serving to stay in the match, Coric crumbled allowing Federer safe passage to the final.
On a chilly Friday night, 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina upset eighth-seeded 37-year-old Venus Williams in a two-hour 48-minute Indian Wells semi-final to reach the first Premier Mandatory final of her career.
Less than a couple of hours later, an unseeded 20-year-old Naomi Osaka shocked world No. 1 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 also booking herself a spot in a maiden final at this level.
Both born in 1997, both knocking out some huge names en route to the final, Osaka and Kasatkina are enjoying a statement week in the California desert and have one clear message to the world.
“That we are coming. Very soon,” said Kasatkina with a smile, following her 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 success over Williams.
Osaka said after her win against Halep: “I kind of feel the same as she (Kasatkina) said. I feel like everyone sort of takes their paths different ways.
“I feel like maybe I came out a little bit slower than she has, because she’s obviously seeded in this tournament and stuff. But I feel like we ended up in the same place, and we’re both going to try really hard.
“And, yeah, I feel like there is a new generation, and we’re trying to push through.”
They’re not just trying, they’re succeeding.
Osaka’s fortnight in Indian Wells has seen her defeat Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Karolina Pliskova and Halep so far, while Kasatkina’s victims alongside Williams are Katerina Siniakova, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber.
Kasatkina was two points away from losing to Williams but the fighting spirit that saw her save a combined five match points en route to the Dubai final last month once again carried her over the finish line.
The Russian has posted victories over each of the four reigning Grand Slam champions within the past seven months, and her route to the Indian Wells title match has seen her defeat four consecutive top-20 players and Major winners.
Osaka, who is the youngest Indian Wells women’s finalist since Wozniacki in 2010, is now 3-4 lifetime against top-five opposition, while Kasatkina now owns five top-10 victories in 2018.
No stranger to battling for nearly three hours on court, Kasatkina apologised ahead of her press conference that she might not be able to string sentences together after such a huge win over Williams.
Her coach, Philippe Dehaes, reminded her during the match of the age difference between Kasatkina and Williams.
“She’s 37, you’re 20. Make her work!” demanded the Belgian coach.
But Williams kept fighting until the very end and it was tiny margins that made the difference in the end.
“She was playing really good, honestly. It was really tough match, so… Yeah. I must, like, give her respect, because she’s playing amazing, really,” said Kasatkina of the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
“Match like this, you’re just speechless. Even I meet my coach and my brother after the match, I was not able to say anything. I was just, like, ‘Aaaaah, okay, that was pretty nice’.
“Too many emotions and you cannot explain everything.”
But that doesn’t mean Kasatkina wasn’t able to soak it all in.
“Sometimes I was even smiling on the court,” said the Russian, who will rise to No. 11 in the world if she loses the final, and No. 9 if she wins it.
“In one moment you just catch yourself, like, you’re in night session, all crowd, you’re playing against a legend, and you are in the third set, for example. And you’re just staying on the return, and you’re like, ‘Come on, maybe it’s the moment of your life’.
“Yeah, for sure you are enjoying these moments.”
When asked to describe what her biggest strength is, Kasatkina says it is her fighting spirit and jokes that her seemingly nerves of steel are “from cold Russia”.
“We are always unhappy. We are strong mentally. So this is our individual part.”
Osaka may have had a fairly easier time on court during her semi-final, but it was not without its nerves.
The young Japanese, who will crack the top-30 for the first time when the new rankings are released on Monday, turned around a 0-3 record against Halep by claiming a first victory over the Romanian.
It was their second showdown of the season – the first being a smooth straight-sets win for Halep in the Australian Open fourth round in January.
“I just really tried to be consistent. I think in Australia I just made way too many mistakes, and I sort of handed her the match. So I just tried to be a little bit annoying and return a lot,” explained Osaka.
The world No. 44 is into just her second WTA final and first since Tokyo 2016.
Asked how it feels to be in the final at a tournament like Indian Wells, Osaka’s response is not what one would expect.
“It feels a little bit lonely, because there’s, like, nobody here. As it goes on, there is less players and stuff. It’s kind of cool, but also a little bit sad because then you’re not around the people that you talk to and stuff,” said Osaka.
“But other than that, it’s cool. Because then, like, all the sushi, there is still a lot of sushi left and stuff…
“I’m really happy I got to the finals, but for me it’s not over until I win or, like, the day is over.”
Sunday will be the first meeting between Kasatkina and Osaka, with the former gunning for a second career title from four finals reached and the latter seeking a maiden WTA trophy.
Before this tournament started, Kasatkina spent time with Osaka on court trying to teach her how to hit a ‘tweener’ shot. The pair are both funny and likeable but have opposite playing styles and very different personalities.
“She’s bad. She cannot get it,” said Kasatkina with a laugh about Osaka’s tweener technique.
But all joking aside, Kasatkina knows what she’s going up against on Sunday.
“She’s playing really well. She’s hitting hard. She has a good serve. She is improving so much, so she’s a really dangerous player,” she said of Osaka.