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Juan Martin del Potro and Naomi Osaka crowned champions – Three things learned from Indian Wells

Reem Abulleil takes a look at three things learned from a fortnight of stellar tennis at Indian Wells.

Reem Abulleil 2018/03/19

There’s a reason why they call it the ‘Fifth Slam’. Indian Wells is truly incredible!

From its picturesque location in the Coachella Valley in California to its unrivalled facilities, made possible by tournament owner Larry Ellison, the BNP Paribas Open is exactly what the organisers advertise it as – a ‘tennis paradise’.

And it was only fitting that a fortnight of top-notch tennis ended with two exciting match-ups in the men’s and women’s finals.

Unseeded Japanese Naomi Osaka defeated fellow 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina in a final we can expect to see many repeats of in the future while No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro valiantly fought off five-time champion and world No. 1 Roger Federer in a third-set tiebreak win to capture a first Masters 1000 crown.

Both the youngsters and the veterans delivered at Indian Wells, leaving us with lots to deliberate in the wake of it all.

Here are three things learned from the 2018 BNP Paribas Open…

WTA’S FUTURE IS BRIGHT

Both Osaka and Kasatkina’s runs to the final cannot get more legitimate than this.

Osaka took out: five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova, ex-world No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza conqueror Sachia Vickery, fiery Greek Maria Sakkari, world No. 5 Karolina Pliskova and world No. 1 Simona Halep en route to the title match.

Kasatkina’s victims before the final were: Katerina Siniakova, US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Australian Open title holder Caroline Wozniacki, two-time Major winner Angelique Kerber and seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams.

Yes, Kasatkina and Osaka combined to defeat five Grand Slam champions and six current or previous world No. 1s during their two weeks at Indian Wells.

Kasatkina is up to No. 11 in the world while Osaka is also enjoying a career-high ranking of 22.

They both have very attractive yet opposite games. They’re both very interesting yet different personalities. At their age, they are fearless on the court, and thoughtful off of it.

Kasatkina is not afraid to sit in a press conference and say she can’t wait to hog the prime time 7:00pm centre court slot and show the world what she can do. She lived up to her own hype and defeated the eighth-seeded Venus in a thrilling three-setter. Her topspin, shot variety, and never-say-die attitude were all full display throughout the tournament, barring the final in which she was outplayed by Osaka.

Osaka boasts a big game and has shown tremendous progress over the past few weeks. Her partnership with her new coach Sascha Bajin end of last year is paying dividends and she’s exhibiting growth in every single match she plays. Her composure is what gave her first career title in Indian Wells on Sunday. She dealt with Kasatkina the same way she did with the top-ranked Halep. No letting up, no mercy.

Don’t be fooled by the giggly, less than coherent speech Osaka gave during the trophy ceremony. When sat in front of her, face-to-face, Osaka listens carefully to every question she is asked and responds with shocking honesty and thoughtfulness.

Neither one of them is a fluke. And they’re both a breath of fresh air in tennis. Stay tuned for more from the pair.

DEL POTRO LOVES A FEDERER FINAL

When I told Federer after the semi-finals that Del Potro says he loves facing him in finals, and would always choose the Swiss to take on in a title match, Federer asked me: “Is that a good thing?”

The world No. 1 said that it sounded like bad news for him and turns out, he was not wrong.

Federer owns a relatively comfortable 18-7 head-to-head record against Del Potro in career meetings. But a closer look reveals an interesting fact that Del Potro leads their head-to-head 4-2 when it comes to finals.

The 36-year-old Federer doesn’t have a clear explanation as to why that is the case.

“I mean, who knows? I don’t know. You could read into it whatever you want. Should I have won the US Open finals? I could have, should have. I don’t know. I didn’t. Same today. So that would have changed the whole thing around,” said Federer on Sunday.

“But he stuck around and like most players who go deep in a tournament, the better they start playing. So clearly the tougher they seem to beat. But of course I have had a few wins against him when he was still younger, where I almost had to win because he wasn’t quite there yet.

“So that’s why I also have a better head-to-head, but I did win the last four or five, I guess. Yeah, I’m not sure why the final record is the way it is. A lot of them have been extremely tight. 7-6 in the third set in Basel, another three-setter in Basel I lost. Most of them have gone the distance, so it’s been tough against him.”

It seems that Del Potro is able to get under Federer’s skin. Both had arguments with the umpire during the final but Federer looked particularly irritated and wouldn’t discuss what he told Fergus Murphy, adding that it “had no effect on the outcome of the match”.

Federer was so wound up that he hit Del Potro with a volley during the contest, didn’t apologise, then received quite the glare from his Argentinean opponent.

All of these things make us love this match-up even more because it brings out a new level of competitiveness from both, which results in breathtaking tennis and nail-biting exchanges. More of the same please!

BORNA’S BREAKOUT MOMENT

Croatian 21-year-old Borna Coric has had several standout moments in the past. As a 17-year-old, he beat Rafael Nadal in Basel in 2014. Coric beat the Spaniard again in Cincinnati in 2016. He upset Andy Murray in Dubai in 2015, then again defeating the Brit when he was ranked No. 1 in the world last year in Madrid.

Compared to Novak Djokovic from a young age, Coric somehow stagnated for a while as he witness his fellow NextGen stars passing him by. He won his first, and sole, ATP title in Marrakech last year but his performances at the Majors have been mostly forgettable.

A change in his entire team saw him join forces with Riccardo Piatti, Milos Raonic’s ex-coach, and it looks like their work together is paying off. In Indian Wells, Coric defeated Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut (who beat Coric in the Emirates just a week earlier), and fought past seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson before he nearly beat Federer in his first Masters 1000 semi-final.

While I’m still scratching my head as to how Coric lost that Federer match (he was up a set and a break, and was up a break twice in the decider), Indian Wells was surely a breakthrough event for the young Croat, who incidentally is managed by Federer’s coach Ivan Ljubicic.

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BNP Paribas Open Daria Kasatkina Indian Wells Juan Martin del Potro Naomi Osaka Sascha Bajin