Out with the Old, In with the New: A Snapshot of the BNP Paribas Open
At the recent BNP Paribas Open, accomplished veterans weren’t the only players having success, as some younger stars began to shine.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: March 20, 2018 • 8:48 AM ET
Juan Martín del Potro is a champion once again.
This year’s BNP Paribas Open was cooler than normal. Dispensed winds shook flags and the best-planned strategies, producing a men’s final for the ages. Yet this tournament, which is one step below a Grand Slam, also ushered in youth and their firm presence to tennis.
Naomi Osaka and Daria Kasatkina, the women’s singles finalists, are each 20 years old. That they persevered through a draw beating back giants of the game — Venus Williams, Simona Halep, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Sloane Stephens and Maria Sharapova — speaks loudly of their tennis, ability to handle the big stage and mature mental strength when their next-generation buddies have all the necessary strokes to be champions just like them. Osaka prevailed 6-3, 6-2 with powerfully placed shots and a serve that reversed break threats from her Kasatkina.
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Naomi Osaka has captured her first title.
At 36 years old, Roger Federer, the player that could be said to bind men’s and women’s tennis, is by no means on his way out because of his loss to Juan Martin del Potro in a feisty final — 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-6(2). The final stretched their limits and gutted those fans loyal to the man who has earned 20 Grand Slams and came in the final with the best record of his entire career: 17-0. But to have squandered three championship points in the third set woke us up to a Federer who is human after all. The upset also honored the Argentine.
The 29-year-old Del Potro isn’t a young man in tennis career terms. However, in 2009, at 20, he blew the lid off the U.S. Open when he defeated a disgruntled Federer in the final after being up two sets and a break of serve. That title has been Del Potro’s only Grand Slam, as was this ATP Masters 1000 won yesterday, his first.
The 6-foot-6 Argentine was forced from the game not long after his U.S. Open win. Over the years since, he has had four wrist surgeries, which compromised his backhand to the point many thought he was finished. Yet, he persevered and now is a threat, as Federer found out yesterday.
“The first thing is trying to be happy doing what you want to do,” Del Potro said about his comeback after defeating Milos Raonic in the semifinals via ASAP Sports. “Then work hard. Do a big effort to get what you want.”
Although Federer kept his No. 1 ranking, even with the loss, Del Potro rose two spots to No. 6 on Monday. Other young players that performed well and put themselves on the map are Borna Coric, Hyeon Chung and Taylor Fritz.
Daria Kasatkina could be one of tennis' next rising stars.
Coric, who is 21 years old, blasted away at Federer in their semifinal match and came within inches of doing so, losing 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Ranked No. 49 for the duration of the tournament, Coric was the only unseeded man to reach the semifinals and rose 13 spots in the rankings to No. 36 on Monday. He beat three seeded players before exiting the Indian Wells Tennis Garden site: Albert Ramos-Vinolas (No. 19), Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 13) and Kevin Anderson (No. 7 and U.S. Open finalist).
Another next-generation player, Hyeon Chung, advanced to the quarterfinals, where he lost to Federer. Chung, seeded No. 23, again proved his value to the game, which he had done at the Australian Open earlier this year where he retired to Federer in the semifinals because of blisters. Chung is now the highest-ranked player (No. 21) from Asia, surpassing Kei Nishikori, a former top 5 player.
Fritz deserves mention, as well. At 20 years old, the slender Californian could’ve been on his way home after the first round. However, he held off a match point against his fellow American, who was his best man at his wedding, Reilly Opelka. Fritz duplicated his mastery of coming-from-behind against veteran lefty Fernando Verdasco and took Coric to three sets before luck ran out.
Amanda Anisimova is one of several promising American women tennis players.
Talk about young, American Amanda Anisimova used her wild-card entry into the main draw to become the youngest player to advance to the fourth round since 2005. She scored the biggest win of her short career, defeating two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 6-2, 6-4. Anisimova is just 16 years old and the current U.S. Open Junior Girls champion.
“It’s so exciting,” she told Jon Wertheim on Tennis Channel. “I was like, I was gonna have fun. I do get nervous at the changeovers, but I liked how I was staying calm, too. You have to be tough.”
With the young marching en force, the notable stalwarts who didn’t play Indian Wells due to injury, or didn’t play well enough other than to raise red flags about their involvement on tour, have to be mentioned.
Novak Djokovic played so poorly, he left us dumbfounded, losing in his first match to qualifier Taro Daniels 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1. The five-time Indian Wells champion returned from elbow surgery, which took him out of the game last fall. He was rusty, but his attitude and general lack of commitment, especially during the last set, left tennis scratching its head.
“Obviously having only played a couple of matches in nine months, you know, you're still, in a way, battling inside of your mind, you know, whether you're fit or not,” Djokovic said via ASAP Sports. “And even though you don't have pain, you're still thinking about it, because it's been something that I have been feeling and dragging for over two years.”
Djokovic is 30 years old. He’s seeded No. 9 at the Miami Open, another Masters 1000 tournament, which started on Monday. He’s a six-time champion there.
Three years ago, no one could come close to the Serbian. He won 11 titles, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. After what we saw at Indian Wells, doubts about a complete turnaround are well-founded.
Package Djokovic along with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, who will not play Miami due to continuing injury problems, and the door opens wider for the young and restless to step up and claim their place in the spotlight.