Saturday, 19 March 2016

Champions to the fore at Indian Wells

Some terrific quality matches on Friday, Californian time, at the Indian Wells tournament, beginning with the Rafael Nadal / Kei Nishikori quarter final.  Although Nadal managed to win in straight sets, he was stretched beyond what the scoreline may suggest.  
In a high class battle Nadal had to stave off six break points of the seven created by Nishikori in the first set, whereas Rafa converted both of his two chances.  And that basically determined the 6-4 Spanish lead. The crowd was treated to more delightful shot making in the second set, but Kei was unable to shift the momentum gained by Nadal and the 6-4 6-3 result saw Rafa through to the semi finals, leaving one spot left.

World number one Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the man he defeated to win his first Grand Slam title in Melbourne in 2008, fought a battle royale with Djokovic successful but not without a few scares.
An early break of the French serve, and a number of chances to add a further break, gave Novak plenty of confidence that Set One would comfortably be his.  However Tsonga played some wonderful crosscourt winners to break the Serbian serve at 5-4 and in the eleventh game more of the same to save break points on his own serve.
Suddenly Djokovic had to hold serve to send the set into a tie breaker.
As if someone turned a switch on, the world number one raced through the tie break with some of the shots we expect of him.
7-6 and looking the winner once more.
Set two took a different turn with Tsonga achieving the early break.  Slightly perturbed at this Djokovic broke back in the fourth game with some slices of brilliance and ultimately another tie break was ordered, despite a couple more failed break attempts from the Serb.
A replica of the first tie breaker and the match was over 7-6 7-6 to Djokovic.  Depending on which way you view it, this was either an ideal hit out for the semi against Nadal, or Novak would need to lift in several areas to expect a win against a much better looking Spanish player than we had been used to seeing in 2016.

The first women's semi final was another (10th) attempt by new world number two Aga Radwanska to register a win against Serena Williams, and as the first set progressed the impossible seemed at least less impossible than in previous ventures.  The first break was earned by Aga with assistance from error prone Williams and at 4-2 a second break was ever so close.  Once Serena avoided that problem her regular game clicked into gear and any chance of a first set triumph for Aga was extinguished.
6-4 to a revitalised world number one.

0-3 in the second and things were forlorn for Aga but the change cometh, 3-3 was set upon us and a further break of the mighty one's serve brought Radwanska to the service line to deliver at 6-5 for the second set.
Serena would have none of this, having Friday night plans, none of which included a third set; she broke back with brilliance and treated the tie break as practice, losing a mere single point and winning the match 6-4 7-6.

Vika Azarenka played Karolina Pliskova to decide Serena's opponent in the final and the opening set was evenly matched with a break of serve apiece, although the standard of tennis was not to the level of the previous semi.  Vika stepped things up once the tie breaker commenced and her experience proved pivotal in taking the first set 7-6.

The unexpected occurred quickly as Karolina dominated the second set.  Vika was her own worst enemy, a woeful 36% 1st serve and losing every point on her second serve.  Pliskova took full advantage and with 6-1 the match was even.

However, Vika steadied as champions do and with a first serve % back at a remarkable 85, her game lifted accordingly and she broke twice to win the set 6-2 and make the final for a chance to give Serena some sweet revenge.

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