Tales of the Unexpected at Indian Wells

Dominic Thiem won his first ever Master’s 1000 title at Indian Wells this week, beating overwhelming favourite and 5-time champion Roger Federer 3-6 6-3 7-5 in a scintillating final. The match-up was perfectly poised, with their previous head to head record being 2-2, with Federer dominating both matches the pair had played on a court. Thiem came into the final having overcome big server Milos Raonic, while Federer reached the final after Rafael Nadal withdrew from their much-anticipated semi-final encounter.

It was Federer who started off the better player, breaking a nervy looking Thiem in his first service game and racing to a 3-0 lead. However, the Austrian settled into the match, clawing the break back to get to 3-4. The fightback was short-lived, as Federer broke again immediately and then served out the set. Federer punished Thiem with great variety, utilising the drop shot to expose Thiem’s deep court position.

But Thiem was determined not to lose 3 Master’s 1000 finals in a row and held off two break points early in set number two, before surging to a 4-1 lead. This shift in momentum was thanks an increase in aggression from Thiem, who did not allow Federer to play his best tennis. Thiem held his nerve to hold his next 2 service games to take the second set.

However, beating Federer is not as simple as striking the ball harder, and Federer re-asserted himself in the 3rd set, regaining control of his own service games. Some delightful tennis and a masterclass in pace absorption saw Federer carve out break point opportunities at 4-3, which were saved by some laser-like winners from Thiem. Thiem then took advantage of some poorly executed drop shots from Federer at 5-5 to conjure up a break point, and opportunity which the Austrian grabbed with both hands to take a 6-5 lead. Federer only converted 2/11 break point chances in the match, while Thiem made 3 from 4, a statisticwhich made all the difference in a tight encounter. Thiem held his nerve to serve the match out, collapsing to the floor in disbelief and joy after his victory.

The fact that this title came on a hard court will make it all the sweeter for Dominic Thiem, who has been accused of being a clay courter and a onetrick pony in the past. With this stunning win, Thiem has silenced any doubters and in the process has overtaken Federer in the ATP rankings, moving up to 4 in the world.

There was also a remarkable story in the women’s draw at Indian Wells. Wildcard Bianca Andreescu, at the age of just 18 years old, stunned 3-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 to win her first ever WTA tournament. This came after impressive wins against Svitolina and Muguruza in earlier rounds.

Andreescu overcame serious adversity in the deciding set of the final, coming through aservice game at 1-1 having been 0-30 down. She also called for her coach, whom she told she could ‘barely move’ and was then broken by a brilliant Kerber. However, Andreescu rattled off 4 consecutive games and managed to eventually serve the match out at the second time of asking.

Andreescu becomes the youngest Indian Wells champion since a certain Serena Williams andwill surge 36 places up the world rankings as a result. Interestingly, winning Indian Wells proved to be Naomi Osaka’s big breakthrough, and she is now World Number one. Will Andreescu follow in Osaka’s footsteps, or is this victory just a flash in the pan?

Fun fact: there have been 19 tournaments on the ATP tour in 2019, and 19 different winners. This is a new record.

Written by Emre Saridogan