Novak Djokovic came into Indian Wells for the first time in four years without a title. He left with a $1 million check and his first trophy of the year, beating Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Sunday to win the BNP Paribas Open for the third time.
“Not winning a title and coming here, there were certain doubts,” Djokovic said. “I had ups and downs in my concentration in opening rounds, but I managed to stay mentally strong and have that self-belief. That’s something that definitely makes this title very special to me.”
Federer rallied from a break down and a 5-3 deficit in the third set to force the tiebreaker, but he made a slew of mistakes to lose the 33rd meeting between the rivals.
Federer still leads the series 17-16, having beaten Djokovic in three sets in the semifinals at Dubai two weeks ago. Djokovic will remain No. 2 in the world, while Federer will rise three spots to No. 5 on Monday in the ATP Tour rankings.
Flavia Pennetta routed injured Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-1 to win the women’s title, the biggest of her career.
Federer was trying to win a record fifth title in the Southern California desert, and at 32, he would have been the oldest Masters 1000 winner since 34-year-old Andre Agassi won at Cincinnati in 2004.
But Djokovic wouldn’t allow it.
After Federer breezed to the first set in 31 minutes, Djokovic earned the lone break of the second set to go up 5-3 after Federer pulled a forehand wide.
“I know he always comes out confident, aggressive,” Djokovic said. “He doesn’t give you the victory; you have to earn it,” he added.
Djokovic got the early break in the third, again on one of Federer’s forehand errors, to lead 2-1. His 112-mph (180 kph) ace gave him a 4-2 lead, and he extended it to 5-3 with a backhand winner down the line.
But Federer then served a love-game to make it 5-4 and broke Djokovic to tie the set, 5-all.
“I was able to just keep the pressure on Novak and show him that if he slips up, I will be there and I will make it a very competitive match in the end for him,” Federer said.
In the tiebreaker, however, the Serb raced to a 5-1 lead, helped by four errors from Federer, and closed it out when Federer’s backhand landed in the net.
“At the end, he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered,” Federer said.
A year ago, Pennetta was close to retiring from tennis. The Italian veteran’s ranking plunged to 166th in the world in June, and she had struggled to rebuild her career after having right continued…