Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis. Last week, the ATP and WTA players battled for the titles in Indian Wells. Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep came away with trophies, beating Roger Federer and Jelena Jankovic in the final matches.
Novak Djokovic: After double-faulting three times in the second set tiebreaker to hand Roger Federer the set, Djokovic sat on the changeover trembling with rage, frustration, disappointment. Literally. His hand was visibly shaking as he tried to take a sip of water. "I can't identify the emotion that was behind it, but it was a little bit of everything," he said after the match. "Obviously knowing that I was so close to victory, making three double faults, the pressure, it was all part of it. As I said before, we are all humans. We all go through those emotions like everybody goes through on a daily basis."
Mortality was a running theme in Djokovic's press conference, after his 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 win over Federer to win his record-tying fourth Indian Wells title. Asked how he felt after seeng Federer double-fault on break point to give him a break in the third set, Djokovic smiled. "He's human as well," he said. "I felt huge relief, to be honest. I saw I'm not the only one that is double faulting under pressure."
Djokovic will tell you he is at the peak of his career. There's little evidence of the contrary. He looked impervious in Indian Wells, rolling through the draw without losing set until the final, where he had a set and a break lead only to find himself in a third set. Djokovic quickly recovered from his seething rage to jump out to a 2-0 lead. Federer broke back and Djokovic destroyed a racket. He then went on to break Federer two more times to run away with the set and the match.
Simona Halep: The No. 3 never played her best tennis in Indian Wells, often embroiled in three-set matches she had no business being in. But ever since her terrible performance against Ekaterina Makarova at the Australian Open, where she lost 6-3, 6-0, Halep has vowed to fight for every ball and for every win. That's precisely what she did to win her biggest title, coming back from a set and a break down to beat Jelena Jankovic in the final 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
"You cannot play your best tennis and then you fight like I did today," Halep explained. "It's compensating. Sometimes you can fight till the end and sometimes you play good and you cannot fight. In Australia I think I played good tennis, but I couldn't fight. So for me, the most important thing, like I said, it's just to have this feeling to fight till the end. 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."
Jelena Jankovic: A reporter told Jankovic after her tough three-set win over Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals that, with all due respect, no one would have picked her before the tournament to make the final. "I wouldn't have picked me either!" the affable Serb responded. Jankovic says she doubted whether she could even play the tournament after struggling with a leg injury before the tournament. Yet there she was in her biggest final since the 2013 China Open, battling past youngsters and veterans alike in a series of three-set matches en route. She earned wins over Madison Keys, Belinda Bencic, Flavia Pennetta, and Lisicki, and served for the title against Halep. She did it all with an even broader smile than she's worn for years. Tennis is better when Jankovic and her backhand-down-the-line are in the mix. She's back in the top 20 on Monday.
Roger Federer: There's no shame in losing to Djokovic on a slow hard court. Federer had a strong tournament, beating Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic to make his third final of the season.
Serena Williams: Her Indian Wells campaign ended early after she withdrew from her semifinal with a right knee injury, but Serena's much-hyped return after 14 years was a success. The ovation she received when she took the court for the first time in 13 years against Monica Niculescu was pitch-perfect. Perhaps even more importantly, the support she received from the crowd when walked out on court a week later to announce her withdrawal was overwhelmingly positive. Nothing will (or should) erase the ugly memories of 2001 but Serena, in her graciousness, and the crowd in their support, did everything they could to show tennis has changed over the years. The tennis community may not have understood Serena's place in tennis history when she was 19 but 18 Slams later and still the reigning women's No. 1, no one doubts it now.
Milos Raonic: Not many players can say they saved three match points to beat Rafael Nadal, but Raonic showed great poise in rallying from a set down to earn his first win over the Spaniard in the quarterfinals, winning 4-6, 7-6, 7-5. He now has wins over three of the ATP's Big Four -- Djokovic remains unsolvable -- week after week Raonic has proven himself to be the most reliable of the ATP's next generation.
Sloane Stephens: The only player to take a set off Serena in Indian Wells, Stephens showed her athleticism and easy power with two strong wins over Angelique Kerber and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Most importantly she seemed game to battle and fight for wins. That's been the huge knock on the American over the last year, with questions constantly swirling as to whether she even wants to be out on a tennis court these days. But her new partnership with Nick Saviano might just pay dividends this year as she tries to work her way back up the rankings.
Jack Sock: In his first tournament of the season after rehabbing from a December surgery, Sock had as good a tournament as anyone could expect. His body held up well as he went to three sets to beat two quality seeds in Gilles Muller and Roberto Bautista Agut to make the fourth round of an ATP Masters 1000 for the first time in his career, losing in straight sets to Federer. He went on to capture the doubles title with Vasek Pospisil, beating the No. 1 Bryans in the quarterfinals and the reigning Australian Open champions Fabio Fognini and Simone Bolelli in the final.
Thanasi Kokkinakis: The 18-year-old Aussie won his first Masters 1000 match and marched all the way to the fourth round where he lost a tight one to countryman Bernard Tomic. Now just outside the Top 100, he won't be in the shadow of Nick Kyrgios or Tomic for long. A very fun young player to watch.
Bernard Tomic: Here's stat that will blow your mind: Tomic is now No. 10 in the ATP Race to London, one spot behind Rafael Nadal. It's been a strong start to the season for Tomic, who's been playing with more focus and intensity in 2015. After beating Kokkinakis he admitted that in past years he would give up when he fell behind in the scoreline. But with renewed confidence in his fitness, he's trying to put that "Tomic the Tank Engine" nickname behind him. His best win of the week came in straight sets over David Ferrer. It was just Ferrer's second loss of the season.
Flavia Pennetta: The defending champion flew under the radar this year. No one expected her to come close to defending her title. She overcame the pressure and emotions to pull off the upset of the week, sending No. 2 Maria Sharapova packing in the fourth round with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win. Her consistency befuddled Sharapova, whose game came completely unglued in the final set as she simply couldn't find a way to get the ball past the Italian.
Lesia Tsurenko: Into the tournament as a qualifier, the Ukrainian marched all the way to the quarterfinals where her body finally gave out and she had to retire to Jankovic. She beat three Top 25 players to get there: Andrea Petkovic, Alize Cornet, and then a dramatic and career-best win over Eugenie Bouchard, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4. She's now up to No. 56 in the rankings.
Maria Sharapova: After earning a hard-fought win over Victoria Azarenka in the third round, Sharapova couldn't solve her match-up problem with Pennetta. A loss to the Italian veteran wouldn't be so shocking, but the way she went away in the final set was un-Sharapova-esque. Unforced error after unforced error went flying off her racket, virtually handing the match to Pennetta.
Wayne Odesnik: Odesnik received a 15-year ban from the ITF after two separate samples tested positive for doping. He promptly retired. After speaking to the players all week in Indian Wells, one thing is certain: He won't be missed. Here was a player who did little to distance himself from doping allegations after he received his first ban after he was caught bringing HGH into Australia in 2010. After serving his ban he teamed up with Guillermo Canas, the Argentine who was issued a doping ban in 2005. Odesnik's name popped up in documents from the same clinic that provided PEDs to Alex Rodriguez.
"He's been linked to a number of people that have been involved in doping presently and in the past and surrounded himself with those people, so I can't say I'm surprised," said Andy Murray. "But I can't believe ‐‐ to have three separate issues is ridiculous. It's good that he's off the tour now."
Grigor Dimitrov: Dimitrov hasn't won back to back matches since the Australian Open. The No. 11 was lucky to win his opening match against Nick Kyrgios, after the Aussie sprained his ankle before trying to serve out the match. He then lost to Tommy Robredo in the next round.
Eugenie Bouchard: She hit 75 unforced errors against Tsurenko and admitted she let her emotions get the best of her as the match wore on. It also looked like she picked up an abdominal injury mid-match during a serve. She's played just three tournaments this season and has yet to beat a player ranked higher than No. 36.
Agnieszka Radwanska: A finalist in 2014, she lost in the second round to Heather Watson 6-4, 6-4. She's failed to win back-to-back matches in four of five tournaments this year, not including an 0-2 stint against Russia at Fed Cup. Martina Navratilova can't be happy.
Photo of the week
Video of the week
Simona Halep won the trophy, but couldn't hoist the trophy:
In case you missed it
- Get full highlights of some of the best shots and moments of the tournament here.
- Where did things start to go wrong for Sabine Lisicki in her semifinal loss to Jelena Jankovic? When she hit this terrible double-fault:
- Timea Bacsinszky finally had her 15-match winning streak snapped by Serena in the quarterfinals. Aside from playing some fantastic tennis to get herself at a career-high ranking of No. 23, Bacsinszky has also been remarkably open about the ways in which tennis tore her family apart. Give this transcript a read.
- Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki sat down for an interview with Vogue. Serena, photographed by Annie Leibovitz made the cover.
- Tournament photographer Billie Weiss caught this beautiful photo of Serena from her opening match.
- Great quote from Federer on the evolution of his rivalry with Nadal: "In the beginning clearly I tried to fight it, to not accept it that he was my rival, that I did have a rival, because I was playing so well in 2004 and then '05. But very quickly did I realize of course when he beat me the first time in Miami that this wasn't just a fluke. This was probably a legend in the making. He's been around forever. He's created things that are just mind blowing. Monaco record, French Open record, and many others. I think it's been actually very cool playing against him over all these years, and I'm sure it's made me a better player throughout. I hope I did a little bit of the same against him."
- Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and John Isner all suffered disappointing losses. Nadal failed to convert on three match points to lose to Raonic, Murray got trampled by Djokovic, and Isner lost a close one to Djokovic in straight sets. But one thing they all have in common: They're all playing the right way and improving.
- That said, what is going on with Murray's serve? It's been a completely unreliable shot for him since the Australian Open.
- Players I was impressed with: Taylor Townsend, Ons Jabeur, and Kokkinakis. Expect to see some strong rankings moves here.
- Victoria Azarenka may have lost in straight sets to Sharpova in the third round, but she showed in the first set why she's well on her way to getting back to her top form. The best part of it all: She was very angry she lost that match. Consider her competitive fire raging.