The Sixth Set

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the 2013 BNP Paribas Open

March Madness in the tennis world kicked into high gear as the world’s elite descended upon Indian Wells, California, for the BNP Paribas Open. Largely regarded as the “Fifth Slam,” the tournament lived up to its billing with great matches and intriguing storylines, but wasn’t immune to its fair share of lowlights as well. On the men’s side, Rafael Nadal won his 22nd Masters 1000 title and third at Indian Wells, while Maria Sharapova captured her 11th Premier Mandatory/5 crown and second at Indian Wells. With the madness shifting coasts this week, to Miami, here is one last glance back at the BNP Paribas Open with a special edition of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’

THE GOOD

Rafa’s superhuman comeback continues. Ok, is it safe to say the comeback is over? Nadal benefitted greatly from not having to Nadal smiles after winning men's singles final match at the BNP Paribas Open ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wellsplay Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray at Indian Wells, but that is not meant to detract from the Spaniard’s awe-inspiring comeback campaign. Not only has he won 17 of 18 matches since returning in early February, he has relinquished just one set in four encounters with top-10 opposition. Nadal is building confidence with every match, and his ridiculous title run at Indian Wells is an encouraging sign that the knee is responding well and he is comfortable playing his usual attacking style of play. Nadal battled back against two red-hot opponents in Ernests Gulbis and Juan Martin del Potro last week, en route to his third title of the year. Most impressively, it was his first hard court title since 2010 and his first hard court tournament in nearly 12 months.

Delpo dents the Big Four. Do we dare say Del Potro has officially cracked the Big Four? Channeling whatever divine intervention was flowing from Argentina last week, the Delpope (copyright: me, 2013) turned in his best performance since winning the U.S. Open, in 2009. The Tower of Tandil battled past Andy Murray, outlasted top-seed Novak Djokovic and nearly pulled the upset of Rafael Nadal in the final, the second Masters 1000 final of his career. The fact that he was able to intelligently maneuver his way past the game’s two best defenders and returners, in Murray and Djokovic,  with a mix of power tennis and tactical brilliance means an immense deal for Del Potro’s relevance as a member of the game’s elite, going forward. It has been over two years since he returned from wrist surgery, and it’s about time we’re seeing glimmers of his 2009 form once again.

Novak and Juan Martín put on a show in the semifinals. The best three-set match of the year. Hands down. If you haven’t see it, at the very least watch these highlights:

The Gulbis bandwagon is back in town. Ok, I’m going to need you to move over here. You, sir, you squeeze in here. Ma’am, if you would just step to this side. And you, young man, shift right there. Ok, thanks. Perfect. Now there’s enough room for me to get back aboard the Ernie Gulbis Bandwagon. Full speed ahead! A week after winning eight matches en route to the Delray Beach title, the enigmatic Ernests Gulbis fought his way to the Round of 16 at Indian Wells. Reloaded with a reinvented forehand, much improved backhand and newfound confidence and attacking presence, Gulbis rediscovered his once highly-touted form, riding a 13-match winning streak into a fourth round clash with eventual champion Rafael Nadal. The Latvian would lose in three sets, but he gave Nadal his biggest test of the fortnight, nearly springing the upset. Gulbis has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, only to repeatedly disappoint his supporters. If he can maintain his stellar form through the clay court season, the sky’s the limit.

Bryans cement their legacies. The doubles tandem with the most career ATP Tour titles became the winningest Grand Slam duo at this year’s Australian Open, clinching their 13th major title. The only remaining hole on the Bryans’ decorated résumé was a championship at Indian Wells, the lone Masters 1000 title they hadn’t conquered. Without having to face a seeded opponent all week, Bob and Mike cruised through the first two rounds before clipping the teams of Kubot/Tipsarevic and Gonzalez/Lipsky, and then Huey/Janowicz in the final. It was the 21st Masters title of their careers. Mission accomplished.

Kirilenko slips on the glass slipper. Whether you consider a 13-seed who had never reached a Premier Mandatory semifinal a Cinderella or not, Maria Kirilenko’s run in Indian Wells was downright impressive. Kirilenko registered her first top-ten win since August, with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 upset of fourth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska, in the Round of 16. The Russian then followed that up with yet another big upset, defeating a suddenly red-hot Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. She is 10-2 since reaching the Aussie Open fourth round and despite losing to Maria Sharapova in the semifinals last week, Kirilenko can hold her head high following a career tournament.

Spanish youngsters emerge on the big stage. During last year’s offseason, controversy erupted in Spanish tennis when the rfetmajority of its WTA players broke from the Spanish Tennis Federation (RFET). The players felt they were lied to about efforts to maximize the potential of women’s tennis in the country. They expressed their disappointment with the RFET for the abandonment of the WTA Tour event in Marbella, as well as 16 Futures tournaments throughout the country. Spanish women’s tennis has long struggled to produce a star since the departures of Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, so, when two of its youngsters reach the Round of 16 at Indian Wells, it is rather significant. Qualifier Garbiñe Muguruza, 19, upset No. 17 seed Ekaterina Makarova and Lara Arruabarrena, 20, upset No. 14 seed Roberta Vinci en route to the fourth round. Both were rewarded with career-high top-75 rankings and will hopefully be fixtures in Spanish tennis for years to come.

Townsend wins her first WTA match. On the first day of the tournament, American youngster Taylor Townsend won the first WTA match of her career, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 over Lucie Hradecka. Congrats, Taylor!

The earthquake. Earthquakes can be devastating, but sometimes they can make you laugh, especially when you have a large tennis event with a bunch of paranoid and easily frightened people in their teens and 20s. Players React to the California Earthquake on Twitter

Evgeny Donskoy rendering Larry Ellison speechless. The future of Russian tennis looks bright if this kid is a part of it. Donskoy took the first set against world number three Andy Murray with incredible shotmaking like this.

British humor (and Jean-Julien Rojer)

The Point of the Tournament

The Shot of the Tournament

Being able to see is good too (GIF courtesy of The Changeover)

DelpoLinesmanGlasses

Finally, Mardy Fish gives American tennis a reason to smile. The landscape of American tennis just hasn’t been the same without Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish since the U.S. Open. Fish, who had been struggling with issues stemming from a heart condition that was treated in early 2012, made his triumphant return to the ATP Tour, at Indian Wells. He defeated fellow American Bobby Reynolds 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 before falling to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the third round. Despite his expected struggles in his first tournament in six months, it’s great to see Mardy back and (hopefully) healthy and confident.

THE BAD

…And John Isner turns that smile upside down. Gone are the 600 ranking points Isner earned for reaching the final in Indian Wells last year. Gone is the title of “top-ranked American.” Gone is his top-20 ranking. Following a second round loss to Lleyton Hewitt, Isner has fallen to 6-6 on the year and is teetering on the brink of a disastrous 2013. He has no confidence, is playing down to inferior opponents and the unforced errors are flowing from his creaky forehand. Hey, Coach Boynton, can you take your former pupil back?

Haas and Almagro’s eventful finish. This third round meeting between two top-20 opponents had an exciting conclusion, with Haas fighting off a match point and breaking Almagro (who was serving for the match) to force a final set tiebreak, which he would win. The thriller also included a memorable time violation debacle. At 4-4, 40-40, in the third set, chair umpire Steve Ulrich called a time violation on Haas. During the following changeover, this conversation ensued:

First, Haas was right. At such a crucial stage of the match, Ulrich should have given him a pre-violation warning to hurry up. They may not have discretion in ruling on time wasting, but there is no reason they can’t assist a player at such a crucial juncture. Second, I can’t imagine the ATP enjoying Ulrich’s comments on the rule being “crazy.” Chair umpires’ actions are a reflection on the governing body they represent and with players already not entirely pleased with the more strictly-enforced rule, Ulrich’s revelation speaks volumes.

Rafa’s time violation diatribe. I admit that the 25-second rule is a work in progress, but if you’re winning as much as Rafael Nadal has been lately, you should seriously not be allowed to complain…about anything. A notoriously slow player, Nadal called the ATP Tour’s stricter enforcement of time wasting a “disaster.” While I agree with him that the rule needs to be adjusted to account for situations of extreme heat and humidity, I have no problem with the ATP’s efforts to speed up the game as a whole. I wrote about this situation previously, and I wouldn’t even be opposed to a personal shot clock that the umpires have on their PDA, which automatically restarts after each point and flashes for only the umpire to see. The rule certainly needs to be improved, but it is by no means a “disaster.”

Charly’s grunting. On why Carlos Berlocq’s grunting bothered him in their fourth round encounter, Andy Murray said:

It’s ridiculous. He’s grunting and I’m still hitting the ball. It’s a joke. Absolutely ridiculous. His grunting is ridiculous. Never heard anything like it on the men’s tour before. Never. When you’re doing it that loud but you aren’t doing that on every single shot, there is obviously a reason for why you’re grunting like that. If it’s distracting your opponent and making them play worse, then you’re getting an advantage. That’s why people complain about it.

Murray may have a point, albeit the timing of his complaint was peculiar with Berlocq about to serve for the opening set. It’s hard for me to pass judgment having not seen the situation unfold, but if what he’s saying is indeed what happened the ATP needs to have a little chat with the Argentine veteran. Then again, the idea that Muzz is just hyper-sensitive to a pin drop when he’s struggling is a very reasonable explanation as well.

No broadcast love for the WTA. You call yourself the “Fifth Slam,” yet you don’t stream first round matches? Could you imagine if one of the actual Grand Slams operated like that? Ok, I understand that all the seeded players, those who rack in the $$$ for the tournament, receive first round byes, but if you want to continue promoting your event and increasing your audience around the world, broadcasting the first round isn’t too much to ask. Also, the lack of love for the WTA, with a disproportionate number of ATP matches being broadcasted throughout the tournament, is very counterproductive and disappointing.

Ferrer’s dismal desert run. Current world number five David Ferrer lost to big-serving Kevin Anderson 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in his opening match of the BNP Paribas Open, his third such defeat in the past four years at Indian Wells. Ferrer fell to 1-4 in that span and after the drubbing compatriot Rafael Nadal handed him in the Acapulco final, the Spanish sparkplug finds himself mired in a rare two-match losing streak. Oh yeah, and this profanity-laced tirade was just gravy.

Dimitrov’s four double-faults while serving for the first set against Djokovic, in the third round. Yup, that’s about it. Surprised?

THE UGLY

Wozniacki and Kerber aiming for the moon. I understand moonballing is a legal part of the game, and can sometimes be a legitimate strategy to disrupt the rhythm of a match and throw off your opponent, but from a spectator’s standpoint it produces the most boring tennis you will ever see. Yet I can’t look away. The WTA would be wise to lock this footage in the vault and throw away the key.

Ernie threatens to throw down with a spectator. As improved as Ernie Gulbis’s game has been on the court over the past few weeks, his temper remains an embarrassment. At one point during the qualifying round, the Latvian found himself in a heated argument with a spectator and later admitted, “Honestly if I wouldn’t get disqualified, I would go and punch the guy.” His fans adore him because of his blunt observations and candid interviews, but sometimes his comments cross the line.

Fedal, Part 29. You can’t blame us for hoping for the best, thanks to the bar Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal set over the past decade. Admittedly, the quality of play in their recent meetings has declined and it’s not like our expectations were soaring to begin with. This, their 29th encounter, was one of the biggest duds they’ve produced, with all due respect to the drubbing Federer put on Nadal at the 2011 World Tour Finals. Federer’s tweaked back prevented the match from even having a chance to be competitive and Nadal cruised to a 6-4 6-2 quarterfinal victory.

Gilles Simon’s matches. First, Paolo Lorenzi blew a 5-1 lead in the third set of his second round encounter with Simon. Then, in the third round, Simon and Benoit Paire combined for one of the worst matches in tennis history. If you think I’m exaggerating, remember who we’re talking about here. Paire sprayed 79 unforced errors, Simon contributed 41 and they combined for 15 double faults and 14 breaks of serve, including eight in the third set. The ball kids weren’t enjoying the match either, being chastised for everything from not giving Simon his towel fast enough to poor ball distribution between points. Simon escaped with the win, 3-6 7-6 6-4.

Continued lethargic play from Juan Monaco, Janko Tipsarevic and Fernando Verdasco. It doesn’t get much worse than this. Monaco, Tipsarevic and Verdasco were each bageled in the second sets of their opening matches in Indian Wells, with the Argentine falling to Marinko Matosevic 5-7 0-6, the Serb losing to Ernests Gulbis 2-6 0-6 and the Spaniard being crushed by Jarkko Nieminen 1-6 0-6. Moreover, Monaco would fall to 0-4 in 2013 (0-9 sets won), Tipsarevic to 0-4 since the Australian Open (0-8 sets won) and Verdasco to 0-2 since AO (0-4 sets won).

Jelena Jankovic’s outfit.

2013 BNP Paribas Open - Day 3

 

Previous Editions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – 2013 Australian Open

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