INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — No. 1 Novak Djokovic defeated No. 2 Roger Federer 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 to win his fourth BNP Paribas Open title on Sunday. Djokovic has now won the two biggest titles of the year so far on the ATP Tour, having captured the Australian Open in January. The win was Djokovic's 21st Masters 1000 title and 50th career title, making him just the 12th man in the Open era to reach the 50-title milestone.
Djokovic will now head to Miami to try and become the first man to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double in back-to-back years since Federer accomplished the feat in 2005–06. “I've got to look forward to get to Miami and have a dinner with Boris [Becker],” Djokovic said. “I think it's on him this time. I surpassed his 49th title, so that gives a little bit of special spice to this title.”
In a rematch of last year's Indian Wells final, Djokovic and Federer once again pushed each other to go the distance. Djokovic looked well in control of the match early, taking the first set in just 32 minutes as Federer struggled with his control off the ground. The Serb broke early in the second set before Federer made a move in the eighth game to get the break back and tie things up at 4-all.
“I know he served well when he had to,” Federer said. “At the same time I just felt like I should get back more returns into play. Then I could have put more pressure on him from the baseline. [It] kind of never really happened for me. So for a long time I was always trailing. I was putting myself under pressure unnecessarily sometimes on my own serve. But that was, again, a credit to Novak's great way of returning second serves.
“Midway through the second [set] it started to get better and I got into more rallies, and that's where I think it became close again,” Federer added. “That was tougher for him, because all of a sudden I think I was playing better so he wasn't getting as many free points.”
The two headed into the second set tiebreaker with Djokovic wobbling slightly. Twice he lead by a mini-break but couldn't close it out, double-faulting three times to help keep Federer in the match, including two on back-to-back points to give Federer his first set point. The Swiss converted to send the match into a final set.
Djokovic was visibly frustrated after dropping the tiebreaker. Television cameras caught him drinking his energy drink on the changeover, his hand visibly shaking. Djokovic dismissed it as nothing more than a physical manifestation of his emotions. “The body has reactions and movements that you're not in control of. I can't identify the emotion that was behind it, but it was a little bit of everything. Obviously knowing that I was so close to victory, making three double faults, the pressure, it was all part of it.”
After taking a bathroom break between sets, Federer came out flat in the third. Again Djokovic jumped out to an early lead at 2-0, only to see his form dip as he tried to consolidate. Federer broke after a lengthy game, sending Djokovic into a racket-breaking rage at his chair. With the frustration out of his system the defending champion quickly rebounded. Federer couldn't capitalize on the turn in momentum, throwing in unearned errors, and Djokovic broke again in the sixth game of the set. Federer couldn't close on a 40-15 lead, giving up the break to 4-2. Djokovic rolled to victory from there, holding his serve and breaking Federer one more time to close the match.
“I felt like I was getting the upper hand from the baseline,” Federer said when asked about giving the break back in the third. “I was making every return, first and second serve, so overall it was the perfect thing to happen. That's why I'm even more disappointed that it ended up finishing the way it did. For me it was totally against the way the match was going. It was actually the comeback for me to really snap my authority on the match. He loosened up and tried to play a bit more aggressive and that worked.”
Djokovic hit 26 winners to 35 unforced errors. Federer hit 27 winners to 47 unforced errors. Federer came into the match having been broken just once in the tournament. Djokovic broke him five times on Sunday.
“If you lose 6-2 or 6-3 in the third, that doesn't matter,” Federer said. “For me, the problem was to be broken being up 40-15 on my serve. That was a disappointing part. So you know what? I'm not going to look back on that match, on that moment very long. That will be forgotten probably in like 25 minutes or so.”
Earlier in the day, No. 3 Simona Halep outlasted No. 21 Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to win her third title of the season and the biggest one of her career so far. Halep struggled all day to find her best level, trailing by a set and a break with Jankovic serving for the match at 5-4. The Serb, playing her biggest final since 2013, felt the nerves. After dominating on her service games for most of the match, Jankovic's serve fell apart.
“I wasn't able to come up with serves,” Jankovic said. “All these previous rounds I was able to kind of rely on my serve and really execute and just do what I needed to do to close the match out. I just started making all these double faults. I was being tentative. That was a mistake. That's why I lost the match. I paid the price.”
Halep was never able to find her best tennis throughout the tournament. She had to go to three sets in four of her five matches while struggling with a foot blister as well as the emotional strain of learning her cousin had committed suicide last week back in Romania. “I don't know how I won today because I didn't play my best,” Halep said. “I didn't play good tennis, but I just wanted to fight till the end because I think that is the most important thing for my style, for myself.”
Despite the injury concerns during the final, Halep told reporters she does intend to play next week's Miami Open. Her strong early start to the season—she is the first WTA player to win three titles and will lead the Road to Singapore standings on Monday—eases some of the pressure she'll face when the tour turns to clay and grass in April, where she has a significant amount of points to defend.
Winning a title without playing your best tennis is always a confidence booster. A French Open finalist last year, Halep's run in Indian Wells moves her one step closer to realizing her dream of winning a Grand Slam one day. “This tournament gives me a lot of confidence that I can be there, I can win every tournament, so now I have more confidence that I can win a Grand Slam,” she said.
Halep's post-match press conference ended with a touch of levity after she was asked to lift the BNP Paribas Trophy and failed miserably: