Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Here is our review of the BNP Paribas Open.
Novak Djokovic: He may not have been dominant, but this run to his first title of the year was precisely what Djokovic needed to jump-start his season. Djokovic wobbled in dropping a set to No. 91 Alejandro Gonzalez, getting blasted off the court for a set by Marin Cilic and being broken twice while serving for the match against John Isner. But Djokovic was battle-tested by the time he arrived in the final, as he showed in rebounding in the third-set tiebreaker after failing to serve it out against Roger Federer.
Flavia Pennetta: The 32-year-old Italian defeated the top-two seeds, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska, en route to the biggest title of her career. Whether her comeback from wrist surgery in 2012 has reached its zenith remains to be seen, but the most encouraging thing about Pennetta's title is that it didn't come out of the blue. Her results over the last seven months -- U.S. Open semifinalist, Australian Open quarterfinalist -- have been building to this. She is displaying solid hitting, good defense and intelligent use of touch and variety. Could we see her in Singapore for the WTA Championships? It's not out of the question.
Bob and Mike Bryan: This title proved elusive for years for the twins, but now they've won it twice in a row after defeating the second-seeded Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares. The Bryans bagged their 95th title.
Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-Wei: The No. 1 team knows how to close the deal: Peng and Hsieh defeated Cara Black and Sania Mirza to improve to 11-0 in finals.
The BNP Paribas Open: The best non-Slam drew 431,000 fans this year, on par with the French Open. Tournament owner Larry Ellison has set the standard by which tour events are measured.
Roger Federer: His error-filled play in the decisive tiebreaker against Djokovic was a letdown. But Federer didn't drop a set before the final, he served and moved well and he was winning with both his offense and defense.
John Isner: The 28-year-old American won the matches he's supposed to win to earn a return to the top 10. Isner played a bit too passively when he had his chance to break Djokovic in the first set. But, to his credit, Isner showed resiliency in extending the match to a third set with those two service breaks.
Sloane Stephens: Her loss to Pennetta in a windy quarterfinal was disappointing, given she led 3-0 in the third set, but this was a very good two weeks for Stephens. She rebounded well from her winless two-tournament stint in the Middle East to produce her best performance at a Premier Mandatory event.
Simona Halep: The Romanian made the semifinals and reached a rankings milestone.
Ernests Gulbis: He stayed relatively drama-free to make the quarterfinals -- quite a few rackets were sacrificed along the way, of course -- where he lost to Isner. His three-set, comeback victory over Grigor Dimitrov in the third round, in which he broke at 5-all in the third set and then held to win, was impressive. He's shown good consistency over the last two months. Let's see if he can carry it into the clay-court season.
Alexandr Dolgopolov: An athletic ball striker with a kitchen-sink game, his third-round upset of No. 1 Rafael Nadal wasn't a one-off. He proceeded to defeat Fabio Fognini and Milos Raonic to make his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal, where he lost to Federer. That's three consecutive tournaments of semifinals or better for the 25-year-old Ukrainian.
Federinka: Doubles is a fun and exciting game, but it's even better when the top singles players take part. Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka were a huge draw, packing the 8,000-seat Stadium 2 consistently during their semifinal run.
Dominika Cibulkova: How different would Cibulkova's year be if she could just figure out a way to beat Li Na? In the Australian Open final, she pushed Li to a first-set tiebreaker before fading. In the Indian Wells quarterfinals, she had break points to go ahead 4-3 in the third set but couldn't convert and lost the final three games. Still, Cibulkova has impressed by following up her breakout Australian Open with some quality results.
Milos Raonic: He improved to 3-0 against Andy Murray at non-Slams with a fourth-round victory.
WTA spoilers: No. 66 Lauren Davis (who upset an ailing Victoria Azarenka in the second round), No. 78 Casey Dellacqua (who defeated two top-20 players), No. 79 Camila Giorgi (a qualifier who beat Maria Sharapova in the third round), No. 142 Alisa Kleybanova (who knocked off Hobart International champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round) and No. 241 Aleksandra Wozniak (an injury-plagued former world No. 21 who eliminated two seeds) all made the fourth round or better.
Andy Murray: After scratching and clawing his way through two three-set matches, Murray had a nightmarish 15 minutes to lose to Raonic. It wasn't beautiful tennis by any means, but if Murray's going to play these types of matches, he at least has to win them.
Agnieszka Radwanska: The No. 2 seed was in tears both during and after the final as a knee injury flared up and prevented her from moving well enough to compete with Pennetta. If you listened to Nadal discuss his emotions after the same thing happened to him in the Australian Open final, you can understand Radwanska's disappointment. But once again, the 25-year-old Pole wasn't able to come through in a big-stage match.
Li Na: The Australian Open champion never played her best tennis in Indian Wells, where she's had only limited success. Making the semifinals was a credit to her ability to grind out victories. Despite her Melbourne title and No. 2 ranking, here's a sobering stat: Li has faced only one top-20 player in 19 matches this year. That came last week when she defeated No. 11 Cibulkova in the quarterfinals.
Stanislas Wawrinka: It will take some time for Wawrinka to get back to playing his best tennis after his long layoff following the Australian Open title. He looked fantastic through his first two rounds, but his lack of match play caught up to him against Kevin Anderson and he needed a few medical timeouts to get through the match.
Caroline Wozniacki: I'm still trying to understand how Wozniacki lost 10 straight games to Jelena Jankovic en route to a 6-3, 6-1 loss in the fourth round. Wozniacki shouldn't be losing 10 straight games to a counterpuncher. Ever.
Marin Cilic: His blistering 6-1 set against Djokovic made me think that a lankier version of Juan Martin del Potro was still in the tournament. Cilic was absolutely hammering the ball off both wings and serving huge. Then, for some reason, he decided he would try to actually rally with Djokovic for the remainder of the match. He lost 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Boris Becker: It's one thing to support your charge via Twitter. It's another to needlessly take on the haters with snarky tweets like this.
7: Consecutive tournaments Federer has made the semifinals or better.
16: Consecutive matches won by Djokovic at an ATP Masters 1000, covering titles at Indian Wells this year and Paris and Shanghai last year.
8: Tournaments since Murray has made a final. His last final came at Wimbledon, which he won.
0: Tiebreakers lost by Isner at Indian Wells. He went 5-0.
166: Pennetta's ranking last July. She's up to 12th.
1: Losses for Halep, in six matches, against top-20 players this year. That loss came to Radwanska in the semifinals.
7: Sharapova's new ranking after losing to Giorgi in the third round, her lowest since 2011.
In case you missed it ...
• Pennetta said Fognini was her "good-luck charm" at Indian Wells, so she asked him to stay through the final. Then she sent this photo:
Assistant coach of the week!!! Really happy ... Miami we come... @fabiofogna pic.twitter.com/tSp4HOrUyq
— Flavia Pennetta (@flavia_pennetta) March 16, 2014
• Speaking of Pennetta, it should be noted that 17-year-old American Taylor Townsend took her to three sets in the second round.
• Becker will rejoin Team Djokovic in Miami.
• Known as "The Ninja," Radwanska prefers the nickname "Lady Aga." She's definitely got the poker face down.
• Jankovic is now ranked ahead of Sharapova. That's a weird one to get your head around.
• Dimitrov did this:
• Li was surprisingly upbeat after her loss to Pennetta in the semifinals. Keeping perspective.
• Keeping with the perspective theme: For all of the talk about the growing confidence among the ATP second tier against the Big Four, it was still Djokovic and Federer in the final.
• When all is said and done, will we be talking about Petra Kvitova the same way we talk about Svetlana Kuznetsova?
• Could we see three 32-year-olds in the WTA top 10 at some point this year?
• I really liked what I saw from Halep these last two weeks, both in her tennis and attitude.
• How concerned should we be about Murray? Even he was left scratching his head after the way he lost to Raonic. He sounded like he's going back to the drawing board in Miami.
• How are you enjoying the Gulbis/Roberto Bautista Agut beef?
• Is Sharapova going to drop out of the top 10? Loads of points to defend over the next two and a half months. • A few minutes after Djokovic beat Federer on Sunday, the Sony Open released its women's draw. Where do I start a petition to get a one-week break between these two tournaments so everyone can take a breath, process what's happened and, oh, I don't know, take a nap?