Indian Wells Final is full of surprises

 - Alix Ramsay

It seems strange but everyone is surprised that the final will be contested by Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem.

Dominic Thiem is aiming his first ATP Masters 1000 title.©FFT/Corinne Dubreuil

Then again, after the shocks of Novak Djokovic losing in the third round and then Rafa Nadal pulling out injured moments before the semi-final, everyone is feeling a little fragile.

Looking for a 6th crown in Indian Wells©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Yet from the wreckage of the draw has emerged the strongest and the best. Federer has been in imperious form all week and has not dropped a set on his way to the final. He knows this tournament like the back of his hand and he loves the setting, the conditions and the atmosphere.

Homing in on a sixth title


His priorities have changed since he won his first desert trophy back in 2004. Then, it was all about forehands and backhands; now it is all about keeping the family happy while goes out to earn a crust. And the family love it in the sunshine so Fed goes to work happy that everyone and everything is taken care of. The result, providing he is fit, is that the 37-year-old is homing in on his sixth title in California.


Trying to stop him is the eye-wateringly fit Thiem. This is only his third Masters 1000 final and his first on a hard court. Built for the clay, at home on the clay and with a game designed for the clay, he has taken a long time to find his feet on the faster surfaces. And perhaps that is why his hard court breakthrough at this level has come here where the courts are slow with a high bounce but the balls are fast. That combo has flummoxed many a champion (Andy Murray, for example, adores American hard courts but has never done well out here) but Thiem seems to have cracked the code this week.

Dominic Thiem beating Milos Raonic for the first time© FFT / Corinne Dubreuil

His 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 battle with Milos Raonic showed the Austrian in all his dogged glory on Saturday. He was strong, he was clever and when he was pushed into a corner, he was brave. Serving for the match, he faced a break point, missed his first match point and then got the job done with the second. And then he celebrated like he had just won the championship.

“In general, it was a very good match because the only break point I had to save was in the last game,” he said. “That was what I wanted to do, to play my service games well and not let him have too many chances.


Surface suits Thiem

“I was preparing 12 days here before the tournament. That helped, of course, a lot. This surface and also the one in New York, for example, it suits me pretty well, because it's bouncy, especially during the day. It's not too fast, so it's a little bit more similar than a clay court.

“Clay is my home. It's my favourite surface. I grew up on it. I just feel great whenever I come back at it. But that doesn't mean that I'm not a good all-rounder, or not a good player on different surfaces.”


Federer and Thiem have faced each other four times before and have two wins apiece. Thiem’s both came in 2016 when the Swiss was trying to make his way back from knee surgery and so was not at his brightest and best. Those wins came on clay in Rome and grass in Stuttgart. Both their hard court meetings have gone to Federer. Their last, at the ATP Finals last November, was brief and it was emphatic: Federer won in straight sets.

Roger is in a good run©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

That said, the world No.4 is nobody’s fool. He knows just how good Thiem can be and just how difficult he can make life for his rivals, no matter what the surface.

Only two people not fazed


“His kick serve is very effective and the ball jumps up high in the desert air,” Federer said cautiously. “I like his style. He’s an interesting player; he’s like Stan [Wawrinka] with a lot of topspin and a lot of power but sometimes he gets a little passive. He’s a super guy – I’m a big fan of his. It’s a nice challenge to play him in the finals.”


It would appear the only two people not fazed by the final line up are Messrs Federer and Thiem, the world Nos.4 and 8 respectively. We should have asked them first.