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Sports

March 21, 2017

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Federer tops Wawrinka in all-Swiss Indian Wells final

Federer tops Wawrinka in all-Swiss Indian Wells final

INDIAN WELLS, United States: Roger Federer claimed a record-equalling fifth ATP Indian Wells Masters title on Sunday, continuing his career resurgence with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Stan Wawrinka.

Federer, sidelined some six months after knee surgery last year, returned to win his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January.

With Sunday’s triumph in the all-Swiss final, Federer joined Novak Djokovic as the only men to win five Indian Wells titles, adding to those he won in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2012.

At 35, Federer is the oldest ATP player to win one of the elite Masters titles, supplanting Andre Agassi who was 34 when he won in Cincinnati in 2004.

“It’s been just a fairytale week once again,” said Federer, who missed Indian Wells last year because of injury.

“I’m not as surprised as I was in Australia, but still this comes as a big, big surprise to me, nevertheless, to win here again and beating the players that I did and the way I did.

“I couldn’t be more happy. It’s an absolute, huge start to the year for me. Last year I didn’t win any titles. I don’t think I was in any finals except maybe Brisbane last year. The change is dramatic, and it feels great.”

The speedy progress means 10th-ranked Federer will have to reassess his 2017 goals. Prior to the Australian Open, his aim was to get his ranking to as high as eighth by the time Wimbledon was over.

“The goals are clearly changing after this dream start,” Federer said.

While Federer had won 19 of 22 prior meetings with Wawrinka — including a semi-final win in Melbourne — he noted that his compatriot would be no easy mark as he played his first tournament in America since winning the US Open in September.

But Federer claimed a tightly-contested first set with a break in the 10th game, pushing Wawrinka into a forehand error to end a tense rally for a set point, on which Wawrinka sent another forehand long.

Wawrinka responded immediately with a break to open the first set — after Federer had held all 42 of his service games in the tournament to that point.

He had saved the lone break point he faced — in his straight-sets thumping of Rafael Nadal in the fourth round — but sent a backhand long on break point to give Wawrinka the advantage in the set.

Wawrinka then withstood two break points to hold for a 2-0 lead, which proved short-lived as Federer won the next three games to take a 3-2 lead.

Finally, Wawrinka found himself serving to save the match. A backhand into the net gave Federer a chance, and he seized it with a volley winner.

“I’ve lost some tough ones against you, but when you played the final in Australia, I was your biggest fan,” a choked up Wawrinka told Federer at the trophy ceremony. “So congratulations on your comeback and congratulations on the win today.”

Meanwhile, Elena Vesnina capped a stellar Indian Wells campaign with a hard-fought 6-7 (6/8), 7-5, 6-4 triumph over fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Playing in her first final at the elite Premier Mandatory level, world number 15 Vesnina battled through a tense three hours and one minute to subdue eighth-ranked Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion.

The triumph comes a year after Vesnina, 30, fell in the first round of qualifying at Indian Wells and capped a tournament that saw her down both Germany’s soon-to-be number one Angelique Kerber and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.

For Kuznetsova, it was a third disappointment in as many finals at Indian Wells, this one coming a decade after she fell in back-to-back finals in 2007 and 2008.

A third set that, like the first two, featured multiple service breaks saw Kuznetsova take a 4-2 lead before Vesnina broke for 4-3 then won a marathon ninth game in which Kuznetsova saved four break points before Vesnina converted her fifth with a stinging service winner to find herself serving for the match.

After knocking a forehand wide on her first match point, she secured the victory when Kuznetsova’s service return went long.

“She was up a set and 4-1, then 4-2 in the third,” Vesnina said. “She had so many break points on my serve. She was 30-Love up couple of times on her serves. And I always keep coming back. I stick there, you know.

“I was just not giving anything at that moment. I didn’t think about the end of the match.

“And when I broke her at 4-All and went to serve for the match, I had this in my mind: I’m not going to give it. I went to serve and I was like I’m never going to lose this game.”

For a time it seemed Kuznetsova’s steadier play would win the day, but in the end it was Vesnina’s aggression that paid off, even though her 49 unforced errors outstripped her 46 winners.

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