BNP Paribas Open final between Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka is about to start. Federer targets a record-equalling fifth Indian Wells title, while Wawrinka is competing in his first ever final in Carlifornia. Who will emerge victorious in the battle of the Swiss?
The all-Swiss final in Californian desert is about to start, as Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka battle for the Indian Wells Masters silverware. Hoping to continue his fairytale return to tennis, Federer is looking to equal Novak Djokovic for the most BNP Paribas Open titles won with five, while the 18-grand slam champion is also striving to become the oldest Masters 1000 champion in history, surpassing Andre Agassi’s triumph at Cincinnati in 2004. Wawrinka meanwhile is through to just his fourth Masters 1000 final - and the first since winning his one and only Masters crown at Monte Carlo in 2014, where he coincidentally defeated Federer in a gripping three-set final. However, Wawrinka will have to achieve something he’s never done in order to emerge triumphant this time around, and that’s beat Federer on a hardcourt. It promises to be an electrifying 2017 Indian Wells final, with Federer and Wawrinka taking to court on Stadium 1 at 1.00pm local time (8.00pm GMT) on Sunday.
Although arguably the greatest player of all time, I don’t think anybody expected Federer to return to tennis in the fashion he has - namely winning an 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open in his first tournament in six months and now advancing into a record seventh BNP Paribas Open final at Indian Wells. It’s not just the results that have been surprising, it’s the mind-blowing tennis Federer has been producing on his way to achieving them. If Federer turning the tables on Rafael Nadal in the fifth set of their Australian Open final wasn’t impressive enough, then his vintage performance in toppling his great Spanish rival for the loss of just five games in a historic Round of 16 clash at Indian Wells earlier this week certainly was. Federer rolled back the years in a sublime display, overcoming his match-up issues with Nadal yet again and hitting his single-handed backhand the best I’ve seen him in years.
The win over Nadal followed straight set victories over Stephane Robert and Steve Johnson, while Federer benefitted from the withdrawal of Nick Kyrgios due to food poisoning to reach the semi-finals. Jack Sock, playing in his first Masters 1000 semi-final, was Federer’s opponent, and the Swiss star quickly gained the upper hand in their clash on Saturday, racing out to a 6-1 first set advantage in the blink of an eye. Sock took a bathroom break at the end of the opener in an attempt to calm his nerves and settle into the occasion, and he returned a different player in the second set, hanging with Federer and forcing a tiebreak. Sock opened up a 3-1 lead, but Federer pegged him back immediately and won six of the last seven points to complete a 6-1 7-6(4) triumph and secure a spot in his 43rd Masters 1000 final.
Yet to drop serve all tournament, Federer credits his stunning form in part to his Australian Open victory from January.
"I think I've just been very focused," said Federer. "That's something that usually goes away when don't play for a while. But I guess I have a lot of confidence from Australia, still."
Federer will take all of that confidence and more into a 23rd meeting with compatriot and close friend Stan Wawrinka, with whom he won Olympic gold in doubles at Beijing in 2008.
Stan Wawrinka (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
While Federer has cruised into the final without dropping a set or serve, it’s been a vastly different story for Wawrinka in the desert. Wins over Paolo Lorenzi and Philipp Kohlschreiber were fairly straightforward in reaching the Round of 16, but from there, things got considerably tougher for the three-time grand slam champion. Wawrinka was extended to third set tiebreaks by lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka in the fourth round and eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals, but he battled his way through them both to set up a final four showdown with surprise semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
As he so often does after sinking his teeth into a tournament, Wawrinka produced his most dominant display of the tournament in seeing off Carreno Busta 6-3 6-2 to reach his fourth Masters 1000 final, dropping just 10 points on serve. Wawrinka alluded to the added belief generated within himself following the tough wins over Nishioka and Thiem after beating Carreno Busta.
“[They helped] a lot. Especially against Thiem, it was a high-quality match. It helps when you win those tough matches,” he said. “Today I was expecting a tough one. I’m really happy to get through to the final for the first time.
“Most of the time I know when I start to win the matches in the tournament, I start to get confidence, the good feeling with the ball... I know I play better and better. Normally semi-final, final, I always play some good matches. Doesn't mean I always win, but I know that I'm going to play some good tennis.”
Like Federer, there were question marks surrounding Wawrinka before he arrived in California. Federer’s loss at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was a big talking point coming out of the Middle East, but not much was really made of Wawrinka’s poor defeat at the hands of Damir Dzumhur. But both players have emphatically answered any doubts over their form this week, with Wawrinka now fully recovered from a knee injury that surfaced during the fifth set of his Australian Open semi-final loss to Federer in January.
As mentioned earlier, Wawrinka will have to break new ground if he is to win a 16th career title on Sunday - and that’s conquer Federer on hardcourts. All three of Wawrinka’s victories have come on clay, where he has more time to set up on his booming groundstrokes. Federer has the ability to take time away from Wawrinka on fasters surfaces, while his variety has always been tough for his countryman to handle. One aspect that could favour Wawrinka this time around is that the Indian Wells courts are some of the slowest hardcourts going around, but with the way Federer is playing right now, it just looks as if the stars are aligning for the great man. I’m backing Federer to notch up his 20th win over Wawrinka, win a 25th Masters 1000 crown and 90th career title.