Juan Martin del Potro and Naomi Osaka crowned champions - Three things learned from Indian Wells

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There’s a reason why they call it the ‘Fifth Slam’. Indian Wells is truly incredible!

From its picturesque location in the Coachella Valley in California to its unrivalled facilities, made possible by tournament owner Larry Ellison, the BNP Paribas Open is exactly what the organisers advertise it as – a ‘tennis paradise’.

And it was only fitting that a fortnight of top-notch tennis ended with two exciting match-ups in the men’s and women’s finals.

Unseeded Japanese Naomi Osaka defeated fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina in a final we can expect to see many repeats of in the future while No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro valiantly fought off five-time champion and world No. 1 Roger Federer in a third-set tiebreak win to capture a first Masters 1000 crown.

Both the youngsters and the veterans delivered at Indian Wells, leaving us with lots to deliberate in the wake of it all.

Here are three things learned from the 2018 BNP Paribas Open…

WTA’S FUTURE IS BRIGHT

Both Osaka and Kasatkina’s runs to the final cannot get more legitimate than this.

Osaka took out: five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, ex-world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza conqueror Sachia Vickery, fiery Greek Maria Sakkari, world No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and world No. 1 Simona Halep en route to the title match.

Kasatkina’s victims before the final were: Katerina Siniakova, US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Australian Open title holder Caroline Wozniacki, two-time Major winner Angelique Kerber and seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams.

Yes, Kasatkina and Osaka combined to defeat five Grand Slam champions and six current or previous world No. 1s during their two weeks at Indian Wells.

Kasatkina is up to No. 11 in the world while Osaka is also enjoying a career-high ranking of 22.

They both have very attractive yet opposite games. They’re both very interesting yet different personalities. At their age, they are fearless on the court, and thoughtful off of it.

Kasatkina is not afraid to sit in a press conference and say she can’t wait to hog the prime time 7:00pm centre court slot and show the world what she can do. She lived up to her own hype and defeated the eighth-seeded Venus in a thrilling three-setter. Her topspin, shot variety, and never-say-die attitude were all full display throughout the tournament, barring the final in which she was outplayed by Osaka.

Osaka boasts a big game and has shown tremendous progress over the past few weeks. Her partnership with her new coach Sascha Bajin end of last year is paying dividends and she’s exhibiting growth in every single match she plays. Her composure is what gave her first career title in Indian Wells on Sunday. She dealt with Kasatkina the same way she did with the top-ranked Halep. No letting up, no mercy.

Don’t be fooled by the giggly, less than coherent speech Osaka gave during the trophy ceremony. When sat in front of her, face-to-face, Osaka listens carefully to every question she is asked and responds with shocking honesty and thoughtfulness.

Neither one of them is a fluke. And they’re both a breath of fresh air in tennis. Stay tuned for more from the pair.

DEL POTRO LOVES A FEDERER FINAL

When I told Federer after the semi-finals that Del Potro says he loves facing him in finals, and would always choose the Swiss to take on in a title match, Federer asked me: “Is that a good thing?”

The world No. 1 said that it sounded like bad news for him and turns out, he was not wrong.

Federer owns a relatively comfortable 18-7 head-to-head record against Del Potro in career meetings. But a closer look reveals an interesting fact that Del Potro leads their head-to-head 4-2 when it comes to finals.

The 36-year-old Federer doesn’t have a clear explanation as to why that is the case.

“I mean, who knows? I don’t know. You could read into it whatever you want. Should I have won the US Open finals? I could have, should have. I don’t know. I didn’t. Same today. So that would have changed the whole thing around,” said Federer on Sunday.

“But he stuck around and like most players who go deep in a tournament, the better they start playing. So clearly the tougher they seem to beat. But of course I have had a few wins against him when he was still younger, where I almost had to win because he wasn’t quite there yet.

“So that’s why I also have a better head-to-head, but I did win the last four or five, I guess. Yeah, I’m not sure why the final record is the way it is. A lot of them have been extremely tight. 7-6 in the third set in Basel, another three-setter in Basel I lost. Most of them have gone the distance, so it’s been tough against him.”

It seems that Del Potro is able to get under Federer’s skin. Both had arguments with the umpire during the final but Federer looked particularly irritated and wouldn’t discuss what he told Fergus Murphy, adding that it “had no effect on the outcome of the match”.

Federer was so wound up that he hit Del Potro with a volley during the contest, didn’t apologise, then received quite the glare from his Argentinean opponent.

All of these things make us love this match-up even more because it brings out a new level of competitiveness from both, which results in breathtaking tennis and nail-biting exchanges. More of the same please!

BORNA’S BREAKOUT MOMENT

Croatian 21-year-old Borna Coric has had several standout moments in the past. As a 17-year-old, he beat Rafael Nadal in Basel in 2014. Coric beat the Spaniard again in Cincinnati in 2016. He upset Andy Murray in Dubai in 2015, then again defeating the Brit when he was ranked No. 1 in the world last year in Madrid.

Compared to Novak Djokovic from a young age, Coric somehow stagnated for a while as he witness his fellow NextGen stars passing him by. He won his first, and sole, ATP title in Marrakech last year but his performances at the Majors have been mostly forgettable.

A change in his entire team saw him join forces with Riccardo Piatti, Milos Raonic’s ex-coach, and it looks like their work together is paying off. In Indian Wells, Coric defeated Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut (who beat Coric in the Emirates just a week earlier), and fought past seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson before he nearly beat Federer in his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

While I’m still scratching my head as to how Coric lost that Federer match (he was up a set and a break, and was up a break twice in the decider), Indian Wells was surely a breakthrough event for the young Croat, who incidentally is managed by Federer’s coach Ivan Ljubicic.

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Del Potro saves match points in victory over Federer to win first Masters 1000 title

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At last: Juan Martin del Potro is a Masters 1000 champion.

Juan Martin del Potro fought off a gritty Roger Federer and saved three match points to clinch the first Masters 1000 title of his career on Sunday and become the first Argentine to win Indian Wells.

It was Del Potro’s 11th consecutive match win and second title in a row, having won the Acapulco title two weeks ago.

The sixth-seeded Del Potro was competing in his first Masters 1000 final since 2013 and his third title match of the season.

“Well, I’m still shaking. I think this is the worst part for me. First of all I want to congratulate Roger on a great week, great success in this start of the year, you’re making history and I’m so happy to be just behind you seeing what you do, it’s amazing for our sport and for the life,” said Del Potro in the trophy ceremony.

“I cannot believe I’m here with this trophy, beating Roger after a great battle. I was really angry after the second set, but well I was lucky in the last tiebreak I played well and finally I got the trophy.

“Thank you to my team, thank you for supporting me, to stay with me in the good moments and the bad moments. You’re very special, I share this trophy with you.”

Addressing the crowd he added: “Thank you very much for the respect in this final, you were an unbelievable atmosphere. Thanks for giving me so much love to never give up after all my injuries.”

He took his tally to 22 career trophies and became just the second man outside of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to win Indian Wells in the past 15 years.

The 29-year-old denied Federer a sixth trophy in the California desert and 98th career title.

Prior to this fortnight, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal had won 13 of the past 14 Indian Wells title, dating back to 2004, with the only exception being Federer’s coach, Ivan Ljubicic, triumphing in 2010.

Del Potro entered the contest trailing Federer 6-18 in career meetings but with a 3-2 advantage over the Swiss in finals.

Federer saved a match point in the second set and served for the title in the decider but Del Potro pegged him back to triumph in the end.

The Argentine drew first blood, breaking at love for a 3-2 lead and he secured the opening set in 34 minutes by holding at love.

Federer, contesting his eighth Indian Wells final, faced two break points at the start of the second set but he saved both to hold for 1-0.

They stayed neck and neck until they went to a tiebreak, with Del Potro needing to save two set points in game 10.

An inside-out forehand winner gave Federer a minibreak for 4-3 and he got his hands on three set points moments later. Del Potro saved the first two, on his own serve. Federer thought he took the set with a service winner on his third chance and started celebrating but Del Potro challenged and the serve was out. Federer then double-faulted and they were back on serve at 6-6 in the breaker.

Federer was getting more and more flustered and argued with the umpire during the change of ends then aced to get a fourth set point. Del Potro saved that too, with a good serve.

Another good serve and Del Potro got himself a match point. The Argentine netted a forehand and it was 8-8. A long forehand from the No. 6 seed gave Federer a fifth set point. This time, some incredible defence from Federer followed by a long volley from Del Potro sealed the set for the Swiss to force a decider.

A leaping backhand smash gave Federer a break point in the ninth game of the third set. But a strong serve-forehand combo helped Del Potro out of trouble. Still Federer found a way to break and put himself in the position to serve for the title.

The Swiss aced to get two match points but Del Potro saved both and created a break point opportunity. Federer hit Del Potro with a shot up at the net to save it.

The world No. 1 then got a third match point but his drop shot was chased down by a sprinting Del Potro who found the passing shot he needed to save it.

A Federer shank gave Del Potro another opportunity to break and this time the big-hitting Argentine slammed a crosscourt forehand winner to draw level at 5-5.

Both players held serve and the title showdown all came down to a final-set tiebreak.

Del Potro raced to a 5-0 lead in the breaker and got match points at 6-1. The first one slipped away on a long error from the No. 6 seed but he converted on the next point to wrap up a memorable victory.

“I’m really happy to be here, except the losing part, that’s tough, but I’m so happy to be back in the finals here at Indian Wells. Had a great week on and off the court,” said Federer after his loss.

“Most importantly, Juan Martin, well played today. There wasn’t much between us but you deserve it, well done.”

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Naomi Osaka claims her maiden WTA title with victory over Daria Kasatkina in Indian Wells

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First title is the sweetest: Naomi Osaka.

Naomi Osaka clinched the first title of her career by defeating fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-2 in the Indian Wells final on Sunday, becoming the first Japanese woman to lift the trophy in the California desert.

Osaka is the youngest Indian Wells champion since Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and will rise to a career-high ranking of 22 on Monday.

She is the fourth unseeded finalist in the tournament’s history and the first unseeded champion since Kim Clijsters in 2005.

Her victory over Kasatkina was her sixth against a top-20 player in 2018 and caps a tremendous fortnight for Osaka, who also upset Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep en route to the title.

Kasatkina, who will be ranked a career-high No. 11 on Monday, was contesting a second consecutive final, having finished as runner-up in Dubai last month. The Russian fell behind to a 1-3 win-loss record in career finals following her loss on Sunday.

Kasatkina came within two points of losing her semi-final against Venus Williams on Friday, but recovered to post a fifth top-10 victory of the season.

Osaka was playing her first final in 18 months, with her sole other appearance in a title match coming in the Tokyo Pan Pacific Open in 2016.

It was the first time both Indian Wells finalists are aged under 21 since Serena beat Clijsters in 2001.

Osaka began to introduce herself during the trophy ceremony before realising everyone in the stadium already knew who she was.

“Hi I’m Naomi, okay never mind,” she said with a laugh.

“I would like to thank Dasha for being super nice and a really cool person. I would like Dasha’s team because they’re super nice too. Congrats.

“This is probably going to be the worst tennis speech of all time,” she nervously added.

Osaka had a nervy start, hitting unforced errors on her first three points on serve to face triple break point. Kasatkina missed on the first two but another Osaka error handed the break over to the Russian.

A cleverly-angled crosscourt forehand from Osaka saw her gain two break points in the next game and the Japanese broke on her second opportunity to draw level.

Osaka broke for a 5-3 lead and got her hands on triple set point the next game. A big forehand return from Kasatkina saw her save the first but a backhand winner from Osaka, her sixth of the match thus far, gave her the opening set.

Kasatkina hit just three winners and 11 unforced errors in that set. She looked deflated compared to her other inspired performances throughout the fortnight against the likes of Venus, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens.

The No. 20 seed was broken in the first game of the second and Osaka went up a double-break to open up a 5-1 lead.

Osaka got her first match points two games later and snatched the title with her 17th winner of the contest.

“First of all congrats to Naomi and to all your team, you are doing a great job guys, congrats. It’s a shame you didn’t show me your tweener today,” Kasatkina said during the trophy ceremony, referring to the video in which she attempted to teach Osaka the ‘tweener’ shot.

“Of course thanks to my team. My coach Philippe, my brother Alex, my fitness coach isn’t here but still I love him so much. Thanks to my family and all my close friends, thank you so much guys, thanks for all the support.

“The last thing I want to tell you, never give up, believe in your dreams, just keep going. Dream and do it.”

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