Tennis - ATP World Tour
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It’s a dream final at the BNP Paribas Open – for more than just fans.
Earlier in the tournament, Juan Martin del Potro said that any chance to play against Roger Federer would be great – and now he’ll get exactly that: a clash with Federer for the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy of the season.
Both advanced to the final, albeit in drastically different fashion. Federer endured an inspired effort by Borna Coric, who led by a set and a break on several occasions but was unable to close the Swiss out in the match’s most tense moments. Del Potro, on the other hand, breezed by Milos Raonic, dealing better with the windy conditions and breaking the Canadian's normally potent serve four times. The victory marked Del Potro’s 400th career win, and he became just the second Argentine in history after Guillermo Vilas to reach the milestone.
The BNP Paribas final pits two of the game’s best forehands against each other. With Del Potro, every ball left for his forehand to devour could mean the point is over. Whether he’s in an attacking position or a defensive one, the Argentine's juggernaut forehand is a weapon any opponent, including Federer, would wish to avoid.
Federer, on the other hand, will look to use his own potent forehand to bully Del Potro’s backhand. Taking the ball fast and early is the Swiss’ modus operandi, and his ability to inject so much spin with such a compact swing has contributed to countless historic results in his prolific career.
This matchup of fearsome forehands has yielded several exceptional matches over the years. In fact, 9 of their past 11 meetings have gone to a final set, including an epic 19-17 third set at the London Olympics in 2012. Just last year, the two met four times: Federer claimed three of those matches, while Del Potro got the better of him in the quarter-finals of the US Open in four tight sets.
“Yeah, we have had a lot of close matches. Big matches, close matches,” recalled Federer on the rivalry. “I just tried to think back at the French Open semis, US Open final, Olympic semis, Basel finals ... and few [Nitto ATP Finals] matches, Shanghai; just three-setters and five-setters the whole way. It's been good.
“I think we have an interesting matchup,” he added. 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 [one of us] is in full flight. It's basically an arm wrestle the whole time, and I think we enjoy that.”
Although Federer owns a 18-6 record against the 29-year-old in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, Del Potro actually leads the Swiss when it comes to finals with three wins to Federer’s two.
At the BNP Paribas Open, their 25th meeting overall will be their sixth final contested. Federer will be playing to reinforcehis place atop the ATP Rankings, although he will remain at the No. 1 spot throughout Miami regardless of his result in Sunday's final. Additionally, the 36-year-old is chasing his 28th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and 98th title overall. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the final is a chance for Del Potro to claim his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy and his biggest title since winning the US Open nine years ago. The Argentine knows he won’t have it easy against one of his greatest rivals – but he relishes the challenge.
“We play great matches together. I love to play against him,” said the World No. 8. “He's the favourite to win tomorrow, but I will try to do my best tennis. I beat him in the past, and I know [what] I can do to repeat that, but is not easy. It will be a good challenge to see how my level is against him.”
The American duo improved to 14-5 together, notching their second team title 7-6(4), 7-6(2) over countrymen Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan at the BNP Paribas Open. They are the first all-American tandem to lift the trophy since the Bryans went back-to-back in 2013-14.
With the title, their first since the 2016 Rolex Shanghai Masters, Isner and Sock claim 1,000 ATP Doubles Rankings points and split $439,350 in prize money. They did not drop a set through four matches, becoming just the third to do so in the past 30 years in Indian Wells. Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez also achieved the feat in 2012, following Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram in 2008.
"It's pretty special," said Isner. "I think more importantly for both Jack and I, just getting that winning feeling back. Admittedly, both of us have not played singles that well this year.
"Doubles can oftentimes be a springboard to singles success. So I think for me personally - and I think I can speak for Jack - I think that can be the most important thing really out of this whole week is playing some tough doubles matches and coming through in the clutch and getting that feeling sort of back again. I think for both of us, that was a good thing."
Isner and Sock claimed victory after one hour and 27 minutes, firing six aces and saving three of four break points. After dropping the opening set in a tie-break, Bob earned the twins' lone break of the match, poaching a volley winner on a deciding point at 3-all.
But Isner would respond in kind in the next game, breaking right back himself with a bevy of pummeling forehands. And the 32-year-old would take over in the ensuing tie-break, launching a forehand down the middle for the decisive mini-break. He and Sock would close out the win on their first championship point.
"I have been fortunate enough to be in my third final here," added Sock. "I've been able to win two of them, which has been super special. Like John said, obviously it's an incredible 10 days here. Probably almost every player's favourite event of the year. Family and friends and loved ones are out here and you're renting a house. And it's relaxing, and you're still getting to play super high-level tennis. And then the crowds, on top of it, are just amazing.
"And it was super special today to be able to play another American team, but it was a little bit different, obviously. The rest of the week prior, we had all the fans on our side. It was a really, really cool atmosphere."
Individually, Sock notched his 10th doubles title and third at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was his second victory of the year, having prevailed alongside Jackson Withrow in Delray Beach last month. For Isner, it was the North Carolina native's fifth triumph and also his third at the Masters 1000 level.
Meanwhile, the Bryans take home 600 ATP Doubles Rankings points and $214,410 in prize money. Competing in Indian Wells for the 20th consecutive year, they remain in search of their first Masters 1000 crown since Rome 2016.