Full of upsets, this year’s BNP Paribas Open was one for the ages

By Chris Lewis

It just wasn’t meant to be for Roger Federer—this year, at least. Seeking his record sixth BNP Paribas Open victory, the 37-year-old Swiss player, who many consider to be the greatest tennis player of all time, appeared to be a virtual lock to walk away with the trophy on Sunday, March 17.

After all, he didn’t have to compete against his main rival, Novak Djokovic, who shares his record for most BNP Paribas Open titles. And it’s hard to bet against his consistency; he’s competed in nine singles finals since 2004, including the last three. But fate had other plans.

Instead, 25-year-old Dominic Thiem, a native of Austria, who reached his first Grand Slam final at the 2018 French Open, proved that he’s a player to be reckoned with. A winner of 12 singles titles on the ATP Tour and a top-four player in the ATP rankings back in 2017, Thiem proved his potential when it mattered the most—during one of the most important matches of his career so far, against one of his idols growing up.

“Roger is one of the biggest legends of all time,” Thiem says. “It’s amazing that we’re still able to compete against him in these big matches.”

Upon losing the first set 3-6, Thiem quickly bounced back, claiming the next two sets 6-3, 7-5, as Federer only converted two break points during the match.

“I had to get used to Roger’s game,” he adds. “In the first set, he was playing amazing. I was struggling a little bit, but I fought my way back into the match.”

Thiem, who is renowned primarily as a clay-surface player (he captured eight of his 12 ATP titles on clay), is steadily improving his results on cement surfaces and displaying the flexibility that’s necessary as a top-five player in the world rankings. In fact, after claiming the BNP Paribas Open title, he once again rose to No. 4 in the world rankings.

“For me, it’s unreal,” he says, reflecting on his match against the living legend. “I enjoyed every second of it.”

Age is Just a Number
Youth also prevailed during the women’s singles final, as Canada’s Bianca Andreescu surprised 31-year-old Angelique Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam champion, including Wimbledon in 2018. Just 18 years old, Andreescu became the youngest BNP Paribas Open champion in 20 years, since Serena Williams defeated Steffi Graf.

The match was exciting from start to finish. Andreescu captured the first set 6-4 but lost the second 3-6. Her momentum didn’t stall for long, though. Making a worthy comeback, she won the final set 6-4 and walked away from Indian Wells Tennis Garden with more than one record. Aside from being the youngest winner in two decades, she’s also the first-ever wild card to claim the championship. “It’s incredible to have my name beside so many champions,” she says. “It’s a dream come true.”

There’s no doubt about it. The victory was incredible, historic and, in some ways, unlikely. But if her overall outlook is any indication, Andreescu not only has the talent to become a world-class player but the mentality that’s necessary as well.

“You never know what next week can bring,” she states. “Maybe I’ll have a bad day. Maybe my opponent will play unbelievable. But if I go out there and play my best, then I have no pressure. I think the only pressure that comes to me is the pressure I put on myself.”

Double the Fun, Double the Champions
Although the BNP Paribas Open was only Nikola Mektic and Horacio Zeballos’s second career tournament together, it didn’t appear that either of them lacked experience playing with one another. Unseeded, the pair played consistently well throughout the men’s doubles championship, defeating the championship’s No.1, No.5, No. 3 and No. 6 seeds consecutively.

The final match proved just how well the pair were playing. After losing the first set 4-6, they made an outstanding comeback, winning their next two sets against Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 6-4 and 10-3, respectively.

“It was so amazing to play in this stadium in front of all of these fans,” Mektic says. “This has been an incredible tournament and I truly enjoyed every moment of it.”

Meanwhile, another unseeded pair—Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka—won the women’s doubles championship, defeating the world No. 1 pairing of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-2. The pair’s play was stunning. They not only won 100 percent of their break points, they also saved 86 percent of their opponents’ opportunities.

“This is a result we barely could have dreamed of, but achieving it is truly something else,” Mertens says. “Hopefully we can come back [to Indian Wells] for many years to come.”

As evidenced by Mertens and Sabalenka’s victory, as well as each of the other BNP Paribas Open champions, the field of rising stars is constantly expanding. There’s no telling just how incredible the 2019 season will be.

Chris Lewis is a staff writer with Desert Golf & Tennis

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