Aces and Faults recaps the week in tennis.
Roger Federer — Dubai Championships
By winning his biggest title in 18 months, Federer ended any lingering doubts about his improved form this season. Just over two months into the season, he has already matched his tally of titles (one) and victories against top-10 players (four) from 2013. He’s made the semifinals in all three starts and the final of two. He appears comfortable with his new racket. His fitness level is high, as he got through four matches in four days, with back-to-back three-set wins to finish the week. In other words, all signs point to “go” in Federer’s world.
His self-belief — something that escaped him last season — helped secure his two signature wins in Dubai. He came back from a set down against both Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and Tomas Berdych in the final. They weren’t perfect matches from Federer, but he impressed most with his patience in waiting out his mid-match dry spells. When those 15-minute stretches of poor timing and wild misses happened last year, there was a sense of panic. This year he seems to accept that this may just be the state of his game and he simply waits for things to turn around. That calmness is a great sign.
“Man, I was missing shots out there like I was totally out of sorts, and conditions were as good as they could have been,” Federer said after the final. “It’s like that was a mental win for me.”
Highlights from Federer’s win over Berdych in the final:
Grigor Dimitrov — Mexican Open
Leave it to Federer to steal the spotlight from Baby Fed in Acapulco. The 22-year-old Bulgarian beat a surging Ernests Gulbis, Andy Murray and a red-hot Kevin Anderson to win the biggest of his two titles. But it wasn’t just the trophy or the victories that made you sit up and take notice — it was how he won.
Less than a year ago, his inability to come through when it mattered haunted him. He served for the set against both Djokovic (Indian Wells) and Murray (Miami) and choked hard. At this year’s Australian Open, he came within a point of earning a two-sets-to-one lead over Nadal, only to let the nerves get to him. So the most meaningful stat of Dimitrov’s title run in Acapulco was the fact that he went 5-0 in tiebreakers, two of which were in the third set against Murray (in the semifinals) and Anderson (in the final).
Watch this point against Murray. This just incredible stuff:
Dominika Cibulkova — Mexican Open
It’s nice to see Cibulkova maintain her form from the Australian Open — for a minute, I was worried she may have left it all on court during her run to the final. Her fourth career title — which included five victories over players ranked higher than No. 49 — makes her rise into the top 10 seem inevitable. She’s up to a career-high No. 11.
Federico Delbonis — Brazil Open
Another young name to keep an eye on, the 23-year-old Delbonis broke though to win his first ATP title. He’s the tournament’s first unseeded champion since 2007. The biggest win was a three-set upset of No. 2 seed Nicolas Almagro in the second round. The Argentine clearly loves playing on clay; don’t forget, he beat Federer last year in the semifinals in Hamburg to make his first ATP final. Delbonis is up to a career-high No. 44 this week.
Klara Zakopalova — Brazil Cup
The Czech veteran won her first title since September 2005 — back when she went by her maiden name of Koukalova — coming back from a 6-4, 5-2 deficit to win 11 straight games and defeat one of the WTA’s promising young guns, Garbine Muguruza, in the final.
Kevin Anderson: Anderson’s look of complete despondency after losing to Dimitrov in Acapulco final was understandable. He was up a break in the final set and was just two holds away from his first title in two years. However, there’s no denying the fact that the prospect of winning got to him — he double-faulted on break point in the eighth game of the final set — but the result shouldn’t overshadow the fact that he’s on a hot streak. Acapulco was Anderson’s second straight final (he made the final in Delray Beach), and he’s playing some very good tennis, now up to a career-high No. 18. He should be dangerous in Indian Wells and Miami.
Caroline Garcia: The Frenchwoman is a beautiful player to watch, with her fluid strokes and movement full of an almost languid panache. But since garnering attention for a near-upset of Maria Sharapova at the 2011 French Open, the 20-year-old hasn’t had any notable wins or tournament runs. But last week she made the Acapulco semifinals thanks to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over No. 19 Eugenie Bouchard. She’s still very young. Here’s hoping she’s able to find some consistent success.
Christina McHale: Two years ago, McHale was the No. 2 American behind Serena Williams and a solid top-40 player. But after being diagnosed with mono late in 2012, it’s been a tough road back. It was great to see her have such a successful week in Acapulco, defeating Kristina Mladenovic, Kimiko Date-Krumm, Kaia Kanepi and Garcia to make her first WTA final. She challenged Cibulkova in a 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-4 loss.
Victoria Duval: The 18-year-old American had her best professional week since her breakout U.S. Open run, making the second round of the Mexican Open as a qualifier and scoring some impressive wins over Junior No. 1 Belinda Bencic, Heather Watson and Iveta Melzer (nee Benesova).
Tornado Black: I’ll admit, I thought the 15-year-old would get demolished in her WTA debut against Bojana Jovanovski in Acapulco. Based on the scoreline, though, she more than held her own, losing 6-4, 7-5.
Novak Djokovic: If Djokovic fails to at least make the finals in Indian Wells or Miami, the alarm bells will sound. His high-profile hiring of Boris Becker, which was seen as a way to fix his mental game, hasn’t yielded any immediate results. In fact, you could argue it’s been a step backward. Djokovic finished the 2013 season on a 24-match winning streak that produced four titles. Through his first two tournaments of 2014, he’s 0-2 against top-10 players and hasn’t made a final.
Andy Murray: Nothing came easily for Murray in Acapulco, though it’s great to see him fit enough to play a warm-up event before Indian Wells. In four matches against players ranked outside the top 20, Murray was pushed to three sets in three of them. It’s still smart to cut Murray some slack given his back surgery, but it’s all coming together much more slowly than I expected.
Garbine Muguruza: One game away from her second WTA title of the season, Muguruza lost 11 straight games. ELEVEN.
16: Dimitrov’s new career-high ranking. More ATP rankings news here.
2: Main-draw WTA matches Bouchard has won since reaching the Australian Open semifinals.
2006: Last time Djokovic went into Indian Wells without a title under his belt.
646: Ranking for Mexican wild card Tigre Hank (great name), who pushed Sam Querrey to three sets in Acapulco.
4: ATP players born in the 1990s who have won a title (Milos Raonic, Bernard Tomic, Dimitrov and Delbonis).
10: Consecutive matches Garcia had lost going into Acapulco, where she made her first WTA semifinal.
8: Consecutive tiebreak sets John Isner and Ivo Karlovic have played against each other. Karlovic won 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) in Acapulco last week.
1: Top-10 win for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last 12 months.
Photo of the week
In case you missed it …
• Dimitrov and Bouchard went for a swim in Acapulco:
• Here’s what Maria Sharapova tweeted a few minutes after Dimitrov clinched the Acapulco title:
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) March 2, 2014
• David Ferrer retired from his quarterfinal match against Anderson with a leg injury and he’s withdrawn from Indian Wells. Tommy Haas retired from his semifinal at the Brasil Open with a shoulder injury. And Laura Robson’s wrist doesn’t seem to be getting much better. She’s also pulled out of Indian Wells.
• Serena Williams and Andy Roddick reunited over the weekend:
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) March 2, 2014
• This is how you save a break point:
• The International Tennis Premier League held its draft over the weekend. Stanislas Wawrinka, who was designated “Icon” status along with Rafael Nadal, Serena, Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki, wasn’t drafted. Also odd, though understandable given her marketing presence: Wozniacki received Icon status ahead of Agnieszka Radwanska, who also wasn’t drafted.
• Is Djokovic’s willingness to be open about his mental lapses over the last year creating even more pressure on himself to come through in the clutch?
• Is the decision of Federer an Sharapova to skip the IPTL a statement on the overall confidence in the league’s viability and placement in the calendar?
• Victoria Azarenka played an exhibition event over the weekend, but should expectations be tempered given the fact she was photographed with a soft cast on her left foot less than a month ago?
• Who will finish the 2014 as the highest-ranked player born in the 1990s — Dimitrov or Raonic?