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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

Top seed Nadal next target for unstoppable Djokovic

Posted: 19 Mar 2011 07:11 PM PDT


Roger Federer (left) congratulates Novak Djokovic on his win at Indian Wells, March 19, 2011. — Reuters pic

INDIAN WELLS, California, March 20 — Unstoppable so far this season, Novak Djokovic will put his perfect 17-0 record on the line against world No. 1 Rafa Nadal in today's final of the Indian Wells ATP tournament.

The 23-year-old Serb reached his third consecutive ATP Tour final with his confidence at an all-time high after beating Roger Federer 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 yesterday in a gripping encounter.

Djokovic, who said he had been seeing the tennis ball "as large as a watermelon" at the California desert venue relished the challenge of competing against the game's best in the biggest events.

"It's exciting to be a part of very interesting and very long and good matches against these guys," Djokovic told reporters after defeating Federer for a third successive time this year.

"Matches between the best players in the world, they're always very intense and as a very emotional player, I get very intense.

"Confidence is probably the most important (factor). And if you are in the momentum, you want to try to keep that momentum going, keep that confidence rolling for you."

Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Juan Martin Del Potro. — Reuters pic

The Serb won his second Australian Open crown in January, his 20th ATP World Tour title at last month's Dubai championships, and today he will be bidding for his sixth success in an elite Masters 1000 event.

Same routine

"It's obvious that my confidence is very high at this moment," Djokovic said. "I will just have the same routine stepping on the court tomorrow with Rafa, and try to play my best game. Nothing really special."

Although Djokovic has lost to the Spanish left-hander 16 times in 23 career meetings, he has won three of their last five encounters.

"I have played Nadal many times, and many times in the late stages of the tournaments, especially in the semis and finals of the major events," the Serbian world No. 3 said.

"So I will be prepared. I want this trophy as much as he wants it, so we'll both step into the court tomorrow wanting that win."

Djokovic, regarded by many of his peers as possessing the best return of serve in the men's game, will be taking on a Spaniard who dominated the tour last year and who covers the baseline like a hare.

"We all know about his ground strokes," Djokovic said. "There's not much to explain there. He's the best baseline player in the world. If I have to, I have to be aggressive. That's the only way against him."

Asked to explain his recent run of success against Federer, a 16-times grand slam champion, Djokovic replied: "My approach to the matches against Roger is maybe different than it was in the past two years.

"Right now I have more self-belief when I step on the court against him. Before it was: 'Let's hope that I can play well'. He's still playing great tennis. He's still one of the best players in the world."

Yesterday, Djokovic, who will replace Federer as world No. 2 when the new rankings are issued tomorrow, broke his opponent three times in a third set of brilliant shot-making to triumph in just over two hours.

Nadal, the Spanish left-hander, came from 1-4 down to power past former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 6-4, 6-4 in the first semi-final yesterday.

Nadal, covering the court with his customary lightning speed, broke del Potro's serve three times in a high-quality encounter at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden to win in one hour 51 minutes.

"That was the biggest test of the tournament for me today," Djokovic said courtside after sealing victory when a Federer backhand service return flew long. "Any time I play Roger, it's a big challenge.

"I didn't really pay too much attention on who is favourite or No. 1, No. 2 in the rankings. I just wanted to take that match as another big challenge. It was very good."

Djokovic felt the fifth game of the third set, when he came from 15-40 down on Federer's serve to win 11 points in a row, had paved the way for his third successive victory over the Swiss this year.

"It was a very close match-up to the last point and you really couldn't say who's gonna take the win," the Serbian world No. 3 said. "You could feel the intensity and the pressure with both of us.

"That fifth game in the third set was crucial to make a break, and then I played very solid."

A mouth-watering final set was on the cards after Djokovic won the first and Federer the second, each of them after breaking twice with scintillating form both from the baseline.

Federer momentum

At that point, Federer appeared to have the momentum but it was short-lived as he failed to hold serve in the opening game of the third set.

Although he broke back with a dazzling display in the fourth when his opponent double-faulted, the Swiss failed to hold serve in the fifth and seventh games as the Serb took control with steadier tennis.

Serving in a hotly contested eighth game, 2008 champion Djokovic squandered one match point before booking his place in the final on the second attempt when a fading Federer pushed a backhand service return.

The Serb has been the dominant figure in the men's game this year, crushing Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to claim his second Australian Open title in January and then outplaying Federer 6-3, 6-3 to win last month's Dubai championships.

"I've played the best tennis of my life in the last three months . . . I think I deserve it," Djokovic said of his imminent return to second in the ATP rankings.

Nadal, champion here in 2007 and 2009, ended a three-match losing streak against del Potro, who had won their previous encounter 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in the 2009 US Open semi-finals.

A whipping top-spin forehand winner set up a first match point for the Spaniard who, serving at 40-0, immediately converted when the towering Argentine sent a backhand service return long.

"I played my best match in Indian Wells this year by far," the 24-year-old Nadal said after improving his win-loss record this season to 14-2. "I needed a match like this to get the right rhythm and right feeling.

"To be in the Indian Wells final is a very big personal satisfaction for me and gives me a lot of motivation. For me, the motivation is not the opponent; it is the tournament."

Nadal, the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open champion, has a 16-7 career record over Djokovic and has beaten the Serb in their last two meetings.

"We know each other 100 per cent," the Mallorcan said.

"These kinds of matches always are the same. The player who has better inspiration that day is the player who is gonna have better chances to win." — Reuters


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Fabio Capello reinstates John Terry as England captain

Posted: 19 Mar 2011 05:34 PM PDT

One year is punishment enough, Fabio Capello says of "the biggest personality in the dressing room". — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 20 — England manager Fabio Capello yesterday reinstated John Terry as his captain, saying the defender had been punished enough for newspaper stories about his private life that cost him the armband a year ago.

Terry will resume the duty permanently, starting with England's Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales on March 26, taking over from Rio Ferdinand, who is likely to miss that match with a calf injury.

Capello said his decision had been influenced by the events of last month's friendly in Denmark when the captaincy passed from Frank Lampard to Gareth Barry and then Ashley Cole in the absence of Ferdinand and vice-captain Steven Gerrard.

"After what happened, I decided that John Terry, after one year of punishment, will be the permanent captain," the Italian told reporters.

"He is a leader but sometimes the leader can make mistakes — not only him but I, you, all the people . . . I think one year's punishment is enough.

"He understood the mistake and he (has) learned from his mistakes . . . He will be a very important captain for us because when I choose him, I know he is a leader . . . He is the biggest personality in the dressing room."

Capello said he had not spoken face-to-face with Ferdinand about the decision but was later seen at Old Trafford watching Manchester United beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 yesterday, where he may have had an opportunity to discuss the decision with him.

The captaincy issue has been a hot topic in the British media this week and Capello said he understood the importance while pointing out the debate over who should wear the armband did not get anywhere near as much attention in other countries.

"Not only in Italy but also in Spain (it is different)," he said. "With the international team, absolutely, always, it is 100 per cent the person with the most caps is the captain." — Reuters


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