Monday Topspin: Djokovic Keeps Winning

Another day at the office: Novak Djokovic is still undefeated in 2011.  For the second time, he earned a championship the hard way, beating Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the same tournament.  He wins the Indian Wells crown for the second time as well, and his victory moves him into the #2 spot in the ATP rankings.

Nadal may not be playing his best tennis, but the first set, at least, was absolutely gripping.  Both players are so athletic and skilled on the defense that many rallies made them look like counterpunchers, except both guys were hitting the ball too hard for that.  In the first set and the beginning of the second, Djokovic appeared to suffer the same lapse that lost him a set against Federer.  But as in the semifinal, he came back in plenty of time.

It was Nadal whose racquet ultimately let him down.  The biggest difference between the Rafa of last September and the Rafa of right now is his serve.  In the sets he lost, the first serve percentage was dreadful: 25% in the second and 45% in the third.  Even when it was going in, it was hardly a weapon.  Nadal’s return game alone is good enough to beat most people, but not Djokovic, certainly not right now.

In Miami, Djokovic can pad his lead over Federer, but #2 remains in play.  Last year, Djokovic lost in the 2nd round to Olivier Rochus, while Federer fell in the 4th to Tomas Berdych.  To take back #2, Federer needs to win the tournament, and even then, he’ll need Novak to lose in the semis or earlier.

Federer at #3 makes every tournament draw a little more interesting: There’s the possibility of a Nadal-Federer semifinal.  If not, Federer could line up to face Djokovic is the semi.  The latter is a familiar sight, and it’s still an exciting one.

New rankings: With Indian Wells on the board along with two weeks worth of challengers, there is an enormous amount of movement.  The biggest winner is Djokovic, moving one spot closer to #1.  Both Juan Martin del Potro and Ivo Karlovic made big strides in their comebacks: Delpo jumped 39 spots to #51, and Karlovic is up 86 places to 153.

Four players reached a new career high thanks to their performances in California: Milos Raonic gained three more places to #34, Somdev Devvarman goes up to #73, Ryan Sweeting breaks into the top 100 at #91, and Ryan Harrison advances 22 spots to #130.

Several players made triple-digit jumps as well.  Cedrik-Marcel Stebe moves into the top 250, landing at #234 after challenger semifinal appearances in two consecutive weeks.  Amer Delic, a former top-60 player returning from injury, gains 141 places to #303 after his championship in Sarajevo.  Rohan Bopanna, on the strength of qualifying for Indian Wells, jumps 119 spots to #510, and Wayne Odesnik, winner at USA F7 two weeks ago, lands at #538, an 135-place improvement.

Challenger results: Yesterday I reported on the final in Guangzhou, which leaves us four more challengers to touch on.  In Le Gosier, Olivier Rochus triumphed over countryman Stephane Robert.  It’s a bigger accomplishment than the usual victory at that level: Le Gosier is at one of the highest rungs of prize money ($100,000), and the draw was full of top-100 players who made early exits from Indian Wells.

In fact, while Rochus won the title and advanced back into the top 100, Robert could be said to have had the better week.  En route to the final, he defeated Dustin Brown, Pablo Andujar, Marsel Ilhan, and top seed Jarkko Nieminen.  As if that wasn’t enough, he teamed with Riccardo Ghedin to win the doubles–over Rochus and Arnaud Clement.

At an indoor tourney in Rimouski, Canada, the field wasn’t nearly as strong.  The title match was plenty exciting, as Fritz Wolmarans defeated Bobby Reynolds in a third-set tiebreak.

The San Jose challenger, in Costa Rica, attracted plenty of South American talent, despite its hard courts.  Returning to the winner’s circle was Ecuador’s Giovanni Lapentti, who won in straight sets over Igor Kunitsyn.

Finally, a clay court challenger took place in Rabat, where the Czech Ivo Minar won the title, getting past Peter Luczak in the final.  The surprise performance of the week belongs to the unheralded Tunisian Malek Jaziri, who entered on a wild card.  His second and third round opponents were a wild card and a qualifier, respectively, but to get there, he had to defeat fourth-seed Jaroslav Pospisil in his opening match.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the fields in the coming week.  See you then!

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