INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – Novak Djokovic came into Indian Wells for the first time in four years without a title.
He left with a $1 million check and his first trophy of the year, beating Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) on Sunday to win the BNP Paribas Open for the third time.
“Not winning a title and coming here, there were certain doubts,” Djokovic said. “I had ups and downs in my concentration in opening rounds, but I managed to stay mentally strong and have that self-belief. That’s something that definitely makes this title very special to me.”
Federer rallied from a break down and a 5-3 deficit in the third set to force the tiebreaker, but made a slew of mistakes to lose the 33rd meeting between the rivals.
Federer still leads the series 17-16, having beaten Djokovic in three sets in the semifinals at Dubai two weeks ago. Djokovic will remain No. 2 in the world, while Federer will rise three spots to No. 5 on Monday in the ATP Tour rankings.
Flavia Pennetta routed injured Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-1 to win the women’s title, the biggest of her career.
Federer was trying to win a record fifth title in the Southern California desert, and at 32, he would have been the oldest Masters 1000 winner since 34-year-old Andre Agassi won at Cincinnati in 2004.
But Djokovic wouldn’t allow it.
After Federer breezed to the first set in 31 minutes, Djokovic earned the lone break of the second set to go up 5-3 after Federer pulled a forehand wide.
“I know he always comes out confident, aggressive,” Djokovic said. “He doesn’t give you the victory; you have to earn it.”
Djokovic got the early break in the third, again on one of Federer’s forehand errors, to lead 2-1. His 180 kph ace gave him a 4-2 lead, and he extended it to 5-3 with a backhand winner down the line.
But Federer then served a love-game to make it 5-4 and broke Djokovic to tie the set, 5-all.
“I was able to just keep the pressure on Novak and show him that if he slips up, I will be there and I will make it a very competitive match in the end for him,” Federer said.
In the tiebreaker, however, the Serb raced to a 5-1 lead, helped by four errors from Federer, and closed it out when Federer’s backhand landed in the net.
“At the end, he made sure he kept the ball in play and I might have made a few too many errors when it really mattered,” Federer said.
A year ago, Pennetta was close to retiring from tennis.
The Italian veteran’s ranking plunged to 166th in the world in June, and she had struggled to rebuild her career after having right wrist surgery the previous August.
“After so many years, so much work and everything, this is the moment I always waited for,” she said. “And it’s coming when you don’t expect. It was something I was waiting since long time, and finally I have a good trophy in my hands.”
Actually, the crystal trophy was so heavy, she didn’t hoist it for photographers.
The 32-year-old Italian became the third-oldest winner of the tournament after Martina Navratilova, who won at age 33 and again at 34 in 1990-91. It was Pennetta’s first title since winning at Marbella in 2010.
“We are old, but we still good athletes,” Pennetta said. “We are strong. We have so many years on the tour, and we know how to handle the emotion and everything.”
As the 20th seed, Pennetta became the lowest seed to win the title. She came in ranked 21st and is projected to rise to No. 12 in the world Monday in the WTA Tour rankings.