Federer trumps Wawrinka for tying 5th Indian Wells title

1 / 2
Elena Vesnina holds the BNP Paribas Open trophy after her three-set victory against Svetlana Kuznetsova in Indian Wells, California, on Sunday night. (AFP)
2 / 2
Roger Federer after his victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in Indian Wells, California, on Sunday night. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2017
0

Federer trumps Wawrinka for tying 5th Indian Wells title

INDIAN WELLS, California: Forget the comeback talk. Roger Federer is back.
He defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 to win a record-tying fifth BNP Paribas Open title in an all-Swiss final Sunday to go with his record 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January after missing most of last year with various injuries.
“For me, the dream run continues,” he said.
Federer kept reminding everyone during the ATP Masters 1000 event that he was “on the comeback” and, wanting to see how he felt, had not planned beyond the first three months of year.
He might want to think bigger now.
“This was not part of the plan, to win Australia and Indian Wells. The goal was to be top 8 by after Wimbledon, so I’m there much, much faster,” he said. “I will make the plan for the remainder of the season, especially for the clay, after Miami, and then see also what the goals are because the goals are clearly changing after this dream start.”
Federer tied the tourney record of Novak Djokovic, who lost in the fourth round, while winning his 90th career title, keeping him third behind Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl on the all-time list in the Open era.
At 35 years and seven months, Federer became the oldest champion in the desert tournament’s history, surpassing Connors, who was 31 years and five months when he won in 1981.
“It’s an absolute huge start to the year for me,” he said. “Last year didn’t win any titles. The change is dramatic and it feels great.”
His twin daughters cheered and jumped up and down in a box above the court when Federer put away a high forehand volley while keeping Wawrinka pinned deep behind the baseline on match point.
Federer dropped serve just once in five matches, losing the first game of the second set against No. 3 seed Wawrinka. He saved one break point against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, and never lost set in the tournament. Seeded ninth, Federer advanced to the semifinals via walkover when Nick Kyrgios withdrew.
“The way he’s playing is just so beautiful,” Wawrinka said. “Everything looks perfect. He’s moving amazingly well. He has amazing touch. He’s doing everything you can do on the tennis court.”
In an all-Russian women’s final, Elena Vesnina defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4.
She and Federer earned $1,175,505 each.
Federer will move up four spots to No. 6 in the ATP world rankings on Monday.
He hit 23 winners, including 16 off his backhand in the 80-minute match. Wawrinka had 17 winners and 21 unforced errors in front of the announced crowd of 17,382 that did not fill the stadium.
Federer improved to 20-3 against Wawrinka, including 15-0 on hard courts. Wawrinka’s wins have all been on clay.
“He’s the best player ever, so we all used to lose against him,” Wawrinka said.
Vesnina had never advanced beyond the third round in singles and just last year she lost in the first round of qualifying, although she has won three doubles titles at the tournament. She beat No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 12 Venus Williams on her way to the biggest final of her career at age 30.
Kuznetsova is 0-3 in finals here, also finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2008.
At age 31, Kuznetsova was the fifth-oldest women to reach the final. But the two-time major champion struggled playing with the lead as the No. 8 seed in front of hundreds of empty seats.
“I didn’t feel good today because she was very aggressive and I was a little bit out of my game,” Kuznetsova said. “I couldn’t figure out a lot the wind and stuff like that.”
Kuznetsova led 4-2 in the third before 14th-seeded Vesnina broke her twice in sweeping the final four games of the match.
Kuznetsova served one of her nine aces to lead 4-1 in the second, prompting Vesnina to bring out her coach-father Sergey Vesnin for a chat.
It worked.
Vesnina reeled off four straight games to lead 5-4. Her forehand error led to Kuznetsova’s break in the 10th game that tied it 5-all. But Vesnina broke back and served out the set 7-5.
“She had so many break points on my serve,” Vesnina said. “She was 30-love up couple of times on her serves, and I always keep coming back.”
Kuznetsova had luck on her side early, winning the first set on a net cord in the tiebreaker. She gave the traditional wave acknowledging her good fortune to Vesnina, who had blown leads of 2-0 and 4-2.
Vesnina had 46 winners and 49 unforced errors. She successfully gambled at the net, winning 24 of 32 points during the three-hour match.
Vesnina earned her third career singles title and will move up two spots to a career-high No. 13 in the world rankings on Monday.


Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

Updated 8 min 49 sec ago
0

Both Omar Khribin and Al-Hilal at a crossroads after a year of ups and downs

  • Asian player of the year just back from injury could follow path walked by Mohamed Salah
  • Despite winning the title Al-Hilal season has been a mixture of good and so-so

DUBAI: In the end, Omar Khribin returned in triumph. But not before a season of ups and downs.
The Syrian forward was named Asia’s best player last November, but there was always the sense that he was not appreciated beyond the Saudi Professional League were he plays for newly crowned champions Al Hilal.
For club and player, this has been a defining season.
Before the league title was wrapped up with a comprehensive 4-1 win over Al-Fateh, thanks to Khribin’s hat-trick, there was a traumatic AFC Champions League campaign to endure. Having reached the final of the continent’s premier competition as recently as November, an exit from the 2018 edition in the group stage has been hard to stomach for supporters dreaming of a third title.
It has been a curious season for the champions, one that saddled contrasting AFC Champions League campaigns, seen a Saudi Arabia World Cup qualification and of course a managerial departure.
Al-Hilal dispensed of the service of Ramon Diaz on February 20, a day after a 1-0 loss to Esteghlal in the AFC Champions League, a seemingly harsh move considering his previous achievements in the competition not to mention a league title last year.
In truth, performances had dipped below what Al-Hilal’s supporters and, crucially, board expect. There was also an exit from the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah; the loss to Esteghlal in their second Group D fixture (having drawn the first 1-1 at home to Al-Ain) was the final straw.
The incoming interim manager Juan Brown had to do without his side’s most potent weapon, and it is not stretching a point say that Khribin’s absence for three months through injury played a major role in Al-Hilal’s inconsistencies.
The 24-year-old had played a pivotal role in the club reaching the ultimately disappointing final against Urawa Red Diamonds last year, and his leadership and goals have been missed this time around.
In 2017, his 10 goals were a competition high, helping cement his reputation as one of Asia’s most feared strikers and, along with his contribution to Syria’s gallant stab at World Cup qualification, earned him the Asian Player of the Year award.
Suddenly, Khribin was the continent’s hottest property, less than a year after joining Al-Hilal from the UAE’s Al-Dhafra.
So where do Al Hilal and Khribin go from here?
Mohamed Salah’s astonishing first season at Liverpool has rocketed him into the bracket of world’s best players, and is now being held up as an example for other Middle Eastern players.
Khribin, at only 24, is one of the select few who can potentially carve out a career abroad should he choose to. While others like Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout have so far shunned interest from foreign clubs, could Khribin be the next Arab to make a big move to one of Europe’s elite leagues?
So far there has been no indication that the player wants a move, and Al-Hilal will certainly be doing all they can to keep hold of their prized possession as they look to maintain their domestic dominance and reassert their continental credentials in 2019.
First order of business would be to confirm a full time manager, and barring injuries the new man will still be working with the best squad in Saudi Arabia, and one of the strongest in Asia.
The Moroccan Achraf Bencharki has been a successful addition to the ranks of foreign players that include Ali Al-Habsi, the Argentine Ezequiel Cerutti and the Uruguayan Nicolas Milesi, as well as the injured and much-missed Brazilian Carlos Eduardo.
Captain and Hilal stalwart Yasser Al-Qahtani may have announced his retirement after last week’s title triumph, but the club remains home to some of the best local talent around, many of whom will represent their country at the World Cup in Russia.
No doubt more ingoing and outgoing transfers will be conducted during the summer.
The title win has eased the pain of the Champions League exit, and if Al-Hilal can hold on to their best players, above all Khribin, even better things can be expected next season.