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Beyond the Baseline

Novak Djokovic edges Roger Federer to win BNP Paribas Open

Novak Djokovic Novak Djokovic won his first title of the season. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

INDIAN WELLS,  Calif. -– No. 2 Novak Djokovic defeated No. 8 Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Sunday to win the BNP Paribas Open for the third time.

The two stars produced a dramatic finish in their 33rd meeting. Federer played clean, aggressive tennis early, breaking in Djokovic's first service game and pocketing the first set in 31 minutes. Federer didn't face a break point until the eighth game of the second set.

But the slow-starting Djokovic raised his performance in time to stage a comeback. He finally broke at 4-3 in the second set and earned another one at 1-1 in the final set. The Serb served for the match at 5-4, but Federer broke him easily. Djokovic was able to shake it off and rebounded to play solidly in the decisive tiebreaker.

Federer said the wind played tricks on both players toward the end of the third set, which helped him secure the late break but hurt him in the tiebreaker.

"A bit more wind coming from my side, which made it more difficult for him maybe to serve it out," Federer said. "It would have been easier for me to get on the offensive in the rallies. And then the same thing switched around in the breaker. He then played the first six points with the wind. He took advantage of that, and maybe against the wind that's when you have to get those easy points and those service winners I couldn't get and he couldn't get.

"So it was an interesting end to the match, no doubt. But I think he played well. At the end, he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered."

Djokovic recorded his first title of the year and stopped Federer’s 11-match winning streak. The 26-year-old Serb also avenged a loss to Federer in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships last month. Federer still leads the head-to-head 17-16.

"I'm just very happy and thrilled to be able to win the first title in this season," Djokovic said. "It was the first final that I played this year. It was necessary for my confidence, and hopefully I can carry that into Miami and the rest of the season."

With his 42nd title, Djokovic passed Federer’s new coach, Stefan Edberg, for sole possession of 14th place on the all-time list.

The ATP Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray has now combined to win 33 of the last 35 Masters 1000 tournaments. Djokovic owns 17 Masters 1000 titles for his career, tied for third with Andre Agassi, behind Federer (21) and Nadal (26).

Despite the loss, Federer will rise to No. 5 in Monday’s rankings. The 32-year-old Swiss had been seeking his fifth Indian Wells title and his 20th match victory of the year, which would have equaled Marin Cilic for the most on tour. Djokovic has now played Federer twice this season and already he's seen the improvement in Federer's game from last year.

"He has more depth on his shots, especially from the backhand side," Djokovic said. "He's opening with his backhand shot down the line. He gives himself an opportunity to finish with the forehand. He serves well. He just played better than he did in the last 13, 14 months. I needed to really be in the top of my game and very concentrated the last moment in order to win."

After a positive two weeks in Indian Wells, Federer will fly to Miami for the Sony Open and decide there whether he will play the tournament.

"It was overall a good performance," Federer said. "I'm actually very happy with the tournament."

Game-by-game analysis is below.

7:23 p.m. ET | Novak Djokovic defeats Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) to win the BNP Paribas Open.

Third-set decisive tiebreak. Here we go:

1-0, Djokovic: He gets the mini-break as Federer hits a backhand long.

2-0, Djokovic: Good serve earns a short reply. Federer has a play on a forehand pass but opts to go for the lob, which Djokovic puts away.

3-0, Djokovic: Federer tries to chip and charge but it's an unconvincing effort. He sends the backhand volley wide.

3-1, Djokovic: Good serve from Federer to get on the board.

4-1, Djokovic: Djokovic pulls Federer wide to the forehand side and Federer puts it into the net. Sharp breaker for Novak here, not so much for Federer.

5-1, Djokovic: The crowd is hushed as Djokovic again pulls Federer wide and Federer yanks the crosscourt reply wide.

5-2, Djokovic: First lazy error from Djokovic in the breaker, as he tries to blast a forehand winner from above his shoulder. Strikes it well long.

6-2, Djokovic: Inside-out error into the net on a routine forehand for Federer. Really poor tiebreak from him, while Djokovic has been solid.

6-3, Djokovic: Federer ace.

7-3 Djokovic: The match ends with a Federer backhand into the tape. Federer's comeback ends and Djokovic's is complete. He is finally on the board with his first title of the season and third here in Indian Wells.

This was a great final and really came down to Djokovic's second-set resilience to fight for the break and then his outplaying Federer in the tiebreaker. Really poor from Federer in those last 10 points.

Here are the stats:

7:15 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds to force a decisive tiebreak at 6-6. 

Djokovic holds and we're into a tiebreak. Federer let him off the hook a bit there with some errors but Djokovic earned some easy points off his serve.

7:12 p.m. ET | Federer breaks and holds, leads 6-5*.

Well, how about that: Two errors from Djokovic and a Federer forehand that clips the line, and it's 0-40. Djokovic saves the first with a good one-two combination but he can't save another. He hits an inside-out forehand wide and Federer breaks back. Plot twist!

Or maybe not? That's the third time in his last two matches that Djokovic has been broken serving for the match. It happened twice against John Isner, who broke him at 15 and love, and now he gets broken at 15. So maybe this is just how the plot was supposed to chug along.

Federer holds at love. Cue Eminem's Lose Yourself. Is Novak supposed to be Rabbit?

7:04 p.m. ET | Federer holds, trails 4-5*.

The crowd roars as Djokovic and Federer retake court. The fans have been treated to a good one today.

A double fault at 15-0 from Djokovic and a huge Federer forehand return gets Federer to 15-30, but he sends a backhand slice wide for 30-all. Djokovic has really tightened up his game and isn't missing much from the baseline and Federer is feeling the pressure of having to place the ball in some tight spots. Another error from Federer and Djokovic has game point.

He holds on some lightning-quick defense. Federer takes a short ball and approaches down the line to Djokovic's backhand and the Serb gets there to fire back a crosscourt pass that Federer miraculously gets back. But Djokovic is already set to cover the stab reply and sends another backhand pass down the line to hold.

Watch the point below:

http://youtu.be/KXOqUxIwd0s

Federer holds at love and Djokovic will serve for the title after the changeover.

6:56 p.m. ET | Federer holds, trails 3-4*.

Easy love hold from Federer.

Is the BNP Paribas Open DJ trying to pump up the Fed? The musical choice for this changeover is Cool by his good friend Gavin Rossdale's wife, Gwen Stefani.

Djokovic comes out of the changeover and responds with a love hold of his own.

Federer holds to 15. Not a whole lot of rallies toward the latter stages of this, though Federer did win a nice backhand-to-backhand rally to help secure that game.

Huge service game for Djokovic coming up.

6:49 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-1*.

Is a comeback in the cards? Federer is 63-9 in finals when he wins the first set. He gets to 30-all but a protracted rally puts Federer's forehand against Djokovic's defense and the Serb wins out, getting back just enough balls to eventually earn the error from Federer.

Mental note: Federer let loose the loudest grunt I've heard from him in years in that last rally.

6:43 p.m. ET | Djokovic breaks, leads *2-1.

Beautiful forehand cross-court pass from Djokovic earns him a fist pump and a 15-30 lead. At 30-all, Federer throws in his second double fault of the match to give Djokovic his second break point of the set. Federer saves it with an inside-out forehand laser into the corner. The crowd is starting to get rowdy now and the chair umpire comes up with a pretty creative warning: "Ladies and gentlemen, if you're the last one to be screaming, it means it's bad timing."

The two men on court aren't suffering from timing issues. Djokovic earns another break point with a perfectly constructed point, slowly opening up the court until he has Federer on a string and the Swiss puts a forehand into the net. Federer saves that break point with an ace.

At deuce, Federer is in complete control of the rally and has a midcourt forehand to put away but he guides it wide and throws back his head in frustration. A fantastic return on break point from Djokovic lands right back at his feet and Federer can only redirect a pick-up forehand wide.

Djokovic breaks. Can he hold on?

6:38 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, tied 1-1*.

Not that this wasn't good before, but it's definitely good now. Both men playing well and now that Djokovic has unlocked some of his better ball-striking, this one is so tough to call. Djokovic has to fight through a deuce game but finally holds with a great body serve that Federer blocks into the net.

6:32 p.m. ET | Federer holds, leads 1-0*.

Federer serves first in the final set and gets stuck in a deuce game. He has game point and hits a horrible drop shot that Djokovic gets to easily and fires up the middle of the court. From my angle I can't tell if Djokovic went right at Federer on that full-throttle forehand from two yards away, but it sure did look like it.

Djokovic has gone from not seeing a break point for most of the match to earning one in each of the last two Federer service games. Federer puts a forehand into the net to give Djokovic a break chance. He saves it with a big forehand winner. Federer holds with a great crosscourt forehand that Djokovic whips into the net and he shakes his fist. Good save.

Now that we're into a third set, the true crowd allegiance comes out. It's mostly behind Federer, with a few pockets of Serb fans making their presence known.

Speaking of making their presence known, is Boris Becker talking some trash on Twitter?

Second set

6:22 p.m. ET | Djokovic wins the second set 6-3. 

And that's the first backhand shank we've seen from Federer. He sends a regulation backhand wayward and it's 15-30. With a forehand winner, the Serb has earned his first break points of the match at 15-40.

Federer saves one with a big serve down the tee that Djokovic can't get into play. But Djokovic's fantastic defense finally earns him a break. Federer hits a big forehand that skids off the sideline, but Djokovic sends up a high lob that lands a few inches in to neutralize the point and Federer eventually hits the error.

Djokovic breaks and will try to serve out the set.

His attempt to do so is going about as well as his first two attempts Saturday against John Isner. He quickly falls into a 0-30 hold with two errors. Federer has a great chance to earn a 15-40 lead when he winds up for a big midcourt forehand, but he nets it and Djokovic claws back to 30-all. A service winner wide earns him set point and he converts when Federer sends a backhand long.

Going three as Adam Levine is singing something about being in misery over the PA system.

With Djokovic having earned 30-all on Federer's serve four times in that set, the break seemed bound to happen. Credit Djokovic for his patience and for not getting too frustrated when Federer repeatedly snuffed him out. One big key to that set was Djokovic's improved serving. He served at 59 percent in the first set and improved to 70 percent in the second set. His success on his second serve also improved, from 36 percent in the first to 55 percent in the second. And he returned much better on Federer's first serve. So nice rebound all around.

6:13 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.

For the third straight service game, Federer gives Djokovic a look at 30-all. This time the Swiss responds with a big serve up the tee to set up an easy forehand winner.

But Djokovic gets to deuce by cracking open the rally with a good backhand down the line that eventually leads to an overhead winner. He desperately needs that shot against Federer to stretch him wide to the forehand and open up the court.

Federer wipes out the challenge. He goes on to win the next two points and, once again, Djokovic gets a sniff and nothing more.

Nice backhand here from Federer:

http://youtu.be/_GjxTkIbT3w

Danger time for Djokovic at 30-all on his serve. He's played better in this set but still not his best. He gets to 40-30 with a good forehand from the middle of the court to Federer's backhand and eventually holds after being forced to deuce. A missed opportunity for Federer there, especially at 0-15 when he put a pickup volley into the net.

No break points for either man in this set so far. Crunch time.

6:03 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.

Opening for Djokovic on Federer's serve at 15-30, when Federer has a chance to make him pay for a less-than-full-power overhead but pulls the forehand wide.

Longest rally of the match and it's Federer who comes out on top as they two trade backhands until Djokovic tries to go down the line and puts it into the tape. Big scream of frustration from Djokovic, who still hasn't had a break point. A Federer service winner and a forehand return wide and Djokovic still can't earn one. Federer holds.

Djokovic opens with his fourth double fault of the match but that's the only point he drops in the game. Comfortable hold.

Here's my live-blog position, in case you're wondering. Loving the shade:

5:55 p.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.

Good hold for Djokovic to start the second set. He needs to get his first-serve percentage up, though. He's serving at only 58 percent and winning 36 percent of his second-serve points. Federer isn't hesitating at all to take control of the point when he sees a second serve.

Novak Djokovic lets out his frustration. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images) Novak Djokovic lets out his frustration. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Federer builds a 30-love lead on his service game but a double fault and a forehand into the net give Djokovic a look at 30-all. But Djokovic doesn't do enough with a weak second serve and eventually sends a regulation forehand long. Federer can't convert game point, though, hitting another forehand into the net.

Not much patience from Djokovic. At deuce, he goes big on a backhand down the line far too early in the point and pushes it wide. Federer holds as Djokovic yanks a backhand wide.

Federer described his mindset these days as "Zen." That's precisely how I'd describe his play today. Measured hitting, no panic in the rallies, with a good balance of aggression and patience. Djokovic looks like he's pressing.

The Serb holds at 15. Still winning just 33 percent of his second-serve points through two service games, but his first-serve percentage is inching up.

First set

5:45 p.m. ET | Roger Federer wins the first set 6-3.

One early break is all Federer needed to pocket that set in a quick 31 minutes. He's playing as well as he has all week. Clean hitting from the baseline and keeping Djokovic on his toes. As for the Serb, that slow start obviously cost him. Three double faults in that set, with two coming in the game in which Federer finally broke.

Here are the first-set stats. All good on Federer's side. Clean, aggressive tennis and neutralizing Djokovic in the rallies.

5:37 p.m. ET | Federer holds, leads 5-2*.

Holds by both men, no break points. Federer is serving extremely well. You have to think he's going to serve out this set.

5:30 p.m. ET | Federer holds, leads 4-1*.

Djokovic gets on the board with a hold. That should relax the shoulders a little bit. But Federer responds with a hold at 30, hitting a fantastic forehand cross court from a wide position on game point. That's a shot he struggled with last year.

Roger Federer sticks a backhand volley. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Roger Federer sticks a backhand volley. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

5:24 p.m. ET | Federer breaks and holds, leads *3-0.

Federer holds at 30. Two good things to see in that game: Federer's clean load and whip of a forehand winner from the center of the court, and Djokovic's blistered forehand return winner down the line.

The first point of Djokovic's service game and he comes crashing into the net and takes a bad leave on a Federer pass that he thought would go long but lands plum on the line. A good return from Federer forces Djokovic to block back a backhand that lands long and Federer has an opening at 0-30. Djokovic buckles down with some good serving to earn game point but double-faults for deuce.

Another net approach for Djokovic and this time he wisely goes to the backhand. Federer sails the passing shot long. But he's back at deuce when Djokovic tries again to come into the net and he puts the forehand approach awkwardly into the middle of the net.

So net-rushing is the game plan for Novak? Not sure that's the play with the court taking pace off the ball and giving Federer time to line up passes.

Double-fault No. 2 for Djokovic, again on game point. Nervy start.

Great play from Federer, who surprises Djokovic with a chip and charge off Djokovic's second serve. He puts away the forehand volley easily down the line to earn his first break point of the match. Djokovic sends a backhand long and Federer has the break.

Federer holds.

5:11 p.m. ET | Warm-up

The players are on court and Federer won the toss and and has elected to serve. Nice to see John McEnroe on court helping with the coin toss. Not surprisingly, he wasn't on court to help with the toss in Saturday night's doubles final, which featured Bob and Mike Bryan. Things would have been ... awkward.

It's a picture-perfect day for some tennis. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) It's a picture-perfect day for some tennis. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

It's a beautiful day in Indian Wells (as it usually is) and thankfully there's not too much wind on court. Yet.

Djokovic has gone with his gray "pajamas," as his fans like to call it. Federer is also in gray, though his bright orange Nike kicks have been a fun highlight to his kit this week. They really make you zone in on his footwork around the ball, which has been tremendous all tournament. It's always a tenuous statement when you use the word "vintage" to describe Federer's play, but his movement has been great here. He's my favorite for the match. He's just been playing better tennis and he's been very relaxed off the court as well. Djokovic, on the other hand, has been a little tense.

Federer steps to the line to serve. Ready? Play.


Pre-match

No. 8 Roger Federer and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will renew their rivalry in the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. The match will begin no earlier than 5 p.m. ET. ESPN2 will televise.

Federer, a four-time champion at Indian Wells, booked his spot in the final with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over No. 31 Alexandr Dolgopolov in the semifinals on Saturday. The 32-year-old Swiss, who has won 11 consecutive matches, will jump to No. 4 if he wins the title and No. 5 if he loses to Djokovic.

“He didn’t have a great 2013 by his standards,” Djokovic said of Federer. “This year he’s playing like he played for most of his career, and on a very high level. He played great in Dubai. We had a tough, interesting match in the semifinals. Whenever we play each other, it’s always a huge challenge for both of us, and very few points can decide the winner.”

Djokovic, a two-time winner, reached the final by beating John Isner 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-1. The 26-year-old Serb was broken twice when serving for the match in the second set, but he rebounded to break Isner at 2-1 in the third and pulled away. Djokovic is seeking his first title of the season.

“He’s fresh and eager to really try to win this because he hasn’t played many tournaments yet this season. He really wants it, and that’s going to be a challenge for me to accept that and fight that with good play myself.”

Federer leads the head-to-head 17-15 overall and 13-12 on hard courts, including a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships last month. Djokovic has won their only match at Indian Wells, in the 2011 semifinals. The two have split eight matches in finals.
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