It was an exciting and competitively fought final, but Rafa emerged the victor as he won Indian Wells by defeating DelPo, 4-6 6-3 6-4.
While both players went through their patches of error-ridden play, it was nevertheless an entertaining final that featured scintillating points from both sides.
The 1st set was pretty evenly fought and Rafa showed early on his intent to break down DelPo’s BH. DelPo’s first serves were missing early in the 1st set, and Rafa broke to go up 2*-0, after a FH attack to DelPo’s BH.
Rafa’s attack on the BH must be a pretty disheartening experience for his opponents, even more so because it’s a seemingly simple strategy that reaps such great dividends. Given how DelPo was unable to hit his BHs with much pace, the momentum shifted in Rafa’s favor. While DelPo seemed tentative in the rallies, he also showed his intent to hit through the court with winners. He hit his stride as he used an insane angle on his FH to break back for 2*-3. He used this momentum for an easy hold and then hit another tremendous beauty. He would break to serve for the set. DelPo was hitting the ball crisply and he gained 3 SPs, courtesy of his great anticipation. He used an incredible pick-up and dive volley to take the 1st set, 6-4.
In the 2nd set, Rafa went 15-30 down on his opening service game. He then approached the net to DelPo’s FH, only for DelPo to hit an amazing passing shot. DelPo broke Rafa in his opening service game.
ATTENTION: DelPo was up a set and a break in the final.
That’s when DelPo played a rollercoaster of a service game at 3*-2 to get broken back. He started by hitting one of the points of the match, a ridiculous pick-up flick that went against the image of tall hitters who are clumsy at the net (it’s worth watching, starts at 3m57s):
However, that point he won also showed that exhaustion was starting to creep up on DelPo. The dropshot he hit earlier in that rally was poor and it resembled a last-resort “panic shot. He hit UFEs and a DF, while also getting flustered by Hawk-Eye. While he added another beautiful half-volley, he would get broken back at 30. He played some of his best points in the game he lost (this was the turning point of the match).
Rafa celebrated the break back with a fistpump and roar to the crowd, like a movie scene. It’s startling the way he seems to draw energy to his side of the court through sheer force of will. Meanwhile, DelPo paid dearly for his dip in form that game. For the rest of the 2nd set, he fought hard to hold, while Rafa held easily and broke DelPo for 5*-3. Rafa was zoning while DelPo made too many errors. While Rafa had the clear momentum on his side, it seemed unfeasible that he could zone like this for the duration of the match. DelPo would have to step up his level and wait for his openings to cut down Rafa.
DelPo’s opening game in the 3rd set was a big battle to reset the momentum. He showed his fight by holding after a 10-minute game, although he made it difficult by including a frankly terrible dropper on GP (easily the worst point of the match). He knew it too:
While he gritted out a hold, his partly exhaustion-induced tactics did not suffice in the next service game. He made poor approaches to the net, which provided an open invitation for Rafa to hit the FH pass. Rafa took the break to go up 2*-1 in the 3rd set.
This was the final momentum push that Rafa needed, as he motored through the 3rd set. Serving to stay in the match, DelPo played a poor service game to go down 3 CPs. He was clearly running on empty at this point. He would save all those BPs to achieve a sort of moral victory. He may have fumbled early on in the 2nd and 3rd sets, but he was going to make Rafa serve for it. Unfortunately for DelPo, Rafa managed to serve it out at 15.
Rafa was understandably happy after the match. He fell to the ground and celebrated with his team. Meanwhile, DelPo was a picture of quiet anguish. This is one of the biggest losses of his career, following his loss in the 2009 Montreal final to Murray and the loss to Ferrer in the 2011 DC final. The camera showed him cringing and shedding tears into his towel. He’s lost big matches in the past 2-3 years, which usually end with him openly sobbing on the bench. This time around, he wore the expression of a much more hardened player. Given the major battles he’d won to reach the final, and how tantalizingly close he’d come to winning his first Masters title in fairytale fashion, it’s easy to see why his face registered a slightly more complicated and dazed expression today. Watching him kind of tugged at the heartstrings.
Midway through the post-match interview, DelPo’s face kind of crumbled, but he recovered to give a wistful smile when the interviewer reminded him of the insane FHs he had hit during the final:
This may be a sign of his maturation as a player. One can’t set the goal of winning Masters and Slams without knowing how to deal with losses like these along the way. This one is a particularly tough loss to take, as DelPo’s performance could probably have won him a Masters at a different event.
He was saying all the right things in his post-match interview on court and it looks like he’ll take away the best parts of his incredible run to the final this week. DelPo made the greatest impression at IW this year. He defeated the two reigning hard-court Slam champions back-to-back to reach the final, which was the shake-up that many longed to see on the ATP. It’s shame that he may’ve been spent by the two long matches he played in the QF and SF (his left wrist problems with the BH also worked to his detriment). A win over Rafa to win his 1st Masters would have been a picture-perfect and fully deserved fairytale, but the back-to-back-to-back wins proved too tough an ask.
As such, Rafa walks away with his own fairytale (a slightly more subdued version, but impressive nonetheless). It’s impressive the way Rafa has come back, in his own way. He was joyful at the trophy ceremony. Beating three top 10 players at Masters tournament on his least favorite surface is no small feat. Even a healthy Rafa would have had a tough time of it, so this is a huge title win for him and he’ll move up to no. 4 in the ranking again. It’s baffling to think how much Rafa had been complaining about the HCs just a few weeks earlier. By now it’s clear he is back to being a top tennis player (and a world-class sandbagger too). In other words, vintage Rafa.
Some journalists went a bit overboard in their praise of Rafa, calling him “brave” for playing and winning on HCs. That was a bit odd, as I don’t recall a big scary man holding a gun to Rafa’s head, forcing him to play on that surface. I suppose every narrative requires a bit of embellishment though. In any case, he’ll certainly be happy with this win, although he will now be skipping Miami (on doctor’s orders) in order to preserve his knees. His withdrawal from Miami was announced while he played the IW final.
Presser Quotes (updated):
Quotes from DelPo’s presser
One of the highlights of his post-match presser was when he was asked if he would take Rafa with him to meet the new Argentine Pope.
Q. If Nicola in fact gets you in to see the Holy Father, would you be willing to take Rafa with you?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: No, just me. (Laughter.) I need it.
In his analysis, DelPo says his serve was one of the factors contributing to this defeat. He was asked many questions about his thoughts on Rafa’s swift return to the top echelon:
Q. You were up a set and a break and at the end it’s a loss. Is it very frustrating?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Yeah, but I think Rafa deserves to win. He plays unbelievable for like an hour there.
Q. You have been away from the circuit for a long time because you were injured. Tell us how difficult it is to come back.
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Very difficult, yeah. First you have to lose the scare about your problem, and then take matches to feel good. You can see the matches in Viña from Rafa and see the difference between them and now is like another player.
Q. You beat Djokovic and you beat Murray. What is the next step for you?
JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO: Beat Nadal, beat Federer. (Laughter.) Try to beat all of them.
But I think I made a good tournament, anyway. Of course I am a little sad for my match of today, but after maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow I will be happy for this tournament and get motivation for the future…
He then closed out by saying he looks forward to the “caliente” atmosphere and fans in Miami:[tweet https://twitter.com/SI_BTBaseline/status/313448483820556288 align=’center’]