As expected Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro will clash in the title match of the first of the nine ATP 1000 event of the year on Sunday in Indian Wells after both advanced in contrasting styles. While the top ranked Swiss who is going for a sixth title in the desert had to dig deep against the unheralded Borna Coric of Croatia who was appearing in his first Master’s series semi-final, Del Potro, the sixth seed and the beaten finalist in 2013; had a surprisingly easy 6-2,6-3 win over the 2016 finalist Milos Raonic of Canada, seeded 32nd.
Federer, who had already assured himself the world number one ranking for atleast two weeks with a win over the Korean Hyeon Chung in the last eight, was made to fight by the 49th ranked Coric who hails from Zagreb. From 5-5 in the opening set, Coric reeled of the next four games and at 4-2 up in the second set it looked like the Swiss superstar’s bid for a personal best start of 17 consecutive wins would come to an unexpected end. Federer finally broke back on his sixth break point in the eighth game of the second set, having squandered three in the fourth and two break point chances in the sixth game.
Coric who was rock solid on his serves and hitting deep ground strokes lost his way and against the run of play Federer broke in the tenth game to force a decider. Coric would break in the first game of the third set only to lose the advantage in the next game. A sloppy seventh game gave Coric another break but the Swiss again fought back taking the last 11 points of the match to win 5-7,6-4,6-4 in two hours and twenty minutes. Federer is tied with Djokovic with five titles at Indian Wells and is bidding for his 98th career title in what will be his 147th tour level final. He has overtaken Ivan Lendl(146) and only Jimmy Connors is ahead of him with 164 finals of which he won 109. Federer is also bidding for his 28th Master’s series title.
A lot was expected in the second semi-final, but it turned out to be a one-sided as Milos Raonic who has dropped to 38 in the rankings lost his much vaunted service twice in each set and never managed a break point in the entire sixty four minute encounter against the 2009 U.S. Open champion. Del Potro, who will be bidding for a maiden title at a Master’s series event also registered his 400th tour level win in the process. Only Guillermo Vilas with 929 wins is ahead of him among Argentine players.
It will be the 25th contest between the two on Sunday as Federer takes a 18-6 lead in the contest. Del Potro is the only player apart from Novak Djokovic to beat both Federer and Nadal in a grand slam which he accomplished enroute to his only major title in New York in 2009. The pair also clashed in the last four at Roland Garros which Federer won in five sets and then in Semi-final of the Olympic Games in London 2012 with the Swiss prevailing 19-17 in the third set. Del Potro is riding a 10 match winning streak while Federer is off to his best start to a season with a 17-0 record.
Prediction :- Federer is known to raise his level in finals but looked far from convincing in his win over Coric. Del Potro who won the ATP 500 event in Acapulco a fortnight ago has beaten the Swiss in important matches and also in the Swiss hometown Basel. If he can keep Federer from bay in the early exchanges he certainly has a chance. Federer’s winning streak is bound to end sooner or later and based in their performance yesterday I would tip Del Potro to come through in three tight sets to claim his long overdue maiden ATP 1000 title.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: sportzcosmos@]