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Before the clay-court season heats up, Beyond The Baseline is taking stock of the year in tennis so far. Here’s a look at the ATP Tour winners and losers from the first three months. Click here for the WTA Tour breakdown.
Stanislas Wawrinka: Wawrinka failed the best he’s ever failed — and, really, better than we ever thought he would fail — at the Australian Open, where he won his first major title and became the first player to beat Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament. His vengeful 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 victory over Djokovic, the three-time defending champion, in the quarterfinals was his signature win of the season and left no doubt that Wawrinka can continue to be a force on tour as long as he stays healthy and motivated. (The 29-year-old Swiss hasn’t been at his best since Melbourne, though.) Wawrinka also won the season-opening Chennai Open, climbed to No. 3 to supplant Roger Federer as the Swiss No. 1 and teamed with Federer to lead Switzerland into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in 11 years.
Novak Djokovic needed only one hour and 23 minutes on Sunday to beat Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 and win his fourth Sony Open title. The two saved their best for last, though, playing the point of the day on Djokovic’s first match point.
The 28-shot rally featured some jabs and haymakers from the baseline until Nadal followed a short ball into the net. Djokovic was able to flick a backhand reply to stay in the point and both men ended up at the net, exchanging reflex volleys until it was Djokovic who found the open court. Cue the “fall to the floor” celebration of his 18th ATP Masters 1000 crown.
The King of Hard Courts is back.
No. 2 Novak Djokovic put together a clinic on Sunday, rolling past No. 1 Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 to win his fourth Sony Open title. Djokovic joins Roger Federer as the only men to win Indian Wells and Miami in the same season twice; the Serb also accomplished the feat during his incredible 2011 season. Nadal, who fell to 0-4 in Sony Open finals, has lost three consecutive matches to Djokovic since beating him at the U.S. Open last fall.
”I tried everything,” Nadal said. “I tried my best. It was not enough. The opponent was just better than me, and when the opponent is better, he’s better.”
Nadal’s only chance to gain the advantage came just five points into the match, when he earned his only break point in Djokovic’s first service game. The Serb saved it and held, and then he flat-out ran away with the match. It was a tactically perfect match from Djokovic, who won Indian Wells and Miami without coach Boris Becker in his box, rejoined instead by his longtime coach, Marian Vajda.
Spare a thought for the ticket-toting fans at the Sony Open on Friday. The tournament was hit with an unprecedented pair of withdrawals in the men’s semifinals, which gave No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Novak Djokovic walkovers into Sunday’s final.
The day began with news that Kei Nishikori, on the heels of two top-five wins over Roger Federer and David Ferrer, was forced to withdraw from his semifinal against Djokovic with a left groin injury. The news stung even more given Nishikori’s fantastic effort to oust Federer in the quarterfinals, coming back from a set and break down to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance to his first ATP Masters 1000 semifinal since the 2011 Shanghai Masters. It also recalled the long-running joke about “The Federer Curse”:
10 of the last 11 players ranked outside the Top 10 to defeat Federer have all lost (or withdrawn) in their next match. #curse
— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) March 28, 2014
In their first clash of the season, Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the semifinals of the Sony Open, where he will play either Roger Federer or Kei Nishikori. The match featured a high-quality first set of tennis from both men before a controversial officiating decision left Murray unraveled.
With Murray serving to force a first-set tiebreak at 5-6, Djokovic raced into the net on the first point of the game and appeared to make contact with the ball on Murray’s side of the net — which is against the rules — as he hit the put-away winner. The chair umpire, Damien Steiner, made no call but when the stadium big screens showed the replay, Murray wanted answers.
Novak Djokovic and defending champion Andy Murray will renew their rivalry on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Sony Open.
Their 20th career meeting will be their first since the Wimbledon final last year, which Murray won 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, and their earliest at a tournament since the 2008 Rogers Cup quarterfinals, which Murray won 6-4, 7-6 (3). Djokovic leads the head-to-head 11-8, including 6-5 on outdoor hard courts.
Murray, ranked No. 6, will drop to No. 8 unless he makes the final, a tough task considering Roger Federer may be waiting for him should he defeat Djokovic. The Brit has struggled to find his form since undergoing back surgery last September, but he may have finally turned a corner this week in Miami. Since dropping the first set of his first match, Murray has lost just 11 games in six sets, defeating Matt Ebden, Feliciano Lopez and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
In his SI.com mailbag this week, Jon Wertheim was asked to rank the best matchups among the ATP Big Four of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Here’s how I would answer the question:
1. Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 23-10
First match: 2004
Number of finals: 20
Signature match: 2008 Wimbledon final; Nadal won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
I still consider this to be tennis’ most compelling rivalry despite Nadal’s decided head-to-head advantage, which includes a five-match winning streak and 15 victories in the last 19 meetings. Nadal-Federer features the most distinct contrast of styles among the Big Four matchups, and they’ve contested 20 finals, including eight at Grand Slam tournaments, over the last 10 years. Just imagine how different their careers would be without the other serving as a roadblock. Nadal has won nine of their 11 matches at majors; it’s conceivable that Federer might have completed the Grand Slam — whether calendar or career — a few times over and pushed the Slam record from 17 to well over 20 without the presence of Nadal.
Serena Williams and Andy Murray are both defending champions at this week’s Sony Open in Miami. Only one drew a favorable course to repeat.
While Williams will likely have two matches to round into form and faces an accommodating half of the bracket en route to the final, Murray will possibly have to go through Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to defend his title.
Despite Murray’s tough road, the Sony Open men’s draw is, on the whole, more balanced than that of Indian Wells, which is good for later-round matchups but could offer some snoozers early in the tournament. As for the women, there are definitely some problematic sections in the draw, with a number of quality players clashing early.
Here’s a look at the draw winners and losers (qualifiers will be placed on Tuesday):
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.