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Roger Federer has fans' heart but Novak Djokovic has game to win final

Fan favorite Roger Federer rallies stirringly but No.1 Novak Djokovic outplays him at end of Indian Wells fina

For awhile Sunday, almost out of nowhere, he was the old man and the spree.

It was exceptional, almost awe-inspiring just to be there. You see lots of ordinary things in sports. You don't see much of this.

Could Roger Federer, left for dead in the second set of the BNP Paribas Open men's final at Indian Wells, against clearly the best player in the game at the moment in Novak Djokovic — and doing so in one of the more prestigious events in the sport of tennis — levitate himself back into this match?

Do dogs bark?

They were playing for a $900,400 first prize. Neither cared about that. Maybe they would later, but not when the ground was shaking with every stroke. This is earthquake country, but this Richter Scale would have been a measurement of 16,100 crazed fans.

Federer was making his 15th appearance in this desert oasis and tennis heaven. He will be 34 in August, but nobody dares tell him that a soft seat in a TV commentating booth makes more sense now.

He had won here four times before, some frosting to go with his record 17 major titles.

Remarkably, he is still No. 2 in the world. He is also as popular a person as there is in tennis, and that goes double for the little rich city of Indian Wells. On title day Sunday, the mayor participates in the trophy presentations. If Federer wanted his job, they wouldn't even need to hold an election.

Federer had looked overmatched in losing the first set, 6-3. And that continued as he fell behind in the second, 4-2. It looked like a boring end, something like 6-3, 6-4.

But with the younger (27), faster and more flexible Djokovic serving at 4-3 and consistently hitting that one more shot that wins points, Federer suddenly played a point with defense like Chris Paul. He reflexed back two huge putaway shots, one an overhead. Then, instead of losing a point that no other mortal could have won, he finished it with a forehand winner.

The crowd reaction measured an 8.1.

At 30-all, he chipped and charged like he had suddenly been infused with some of his coach's DNA, and his Stefan Edberg move got him to break point and the crowd to delirium.

Djokovic saved that one, but was shaken enough to double fault to a second break point. This time, Federer cashed in and you could almost hear the voice of Al Michaels at a hockey game. Suddenly, everybody in the crowd believed in miracles.

That became more so in the inevitable tiebreaker.

With Djokovic serving at 5-4, the match on his racket, he double faulted. That's like Rory McIlroy swinging and missing. Then, at 5-5, he did it again. Djokovic's career will likely go on for at least five more years and he'll never do that again in a big-time tiebreaker. That's why he is No. 1.

On the next point, now Federer's set point, Djokovic lobbed long and it was a set apiece.

You'll see comebacks in sports. This one was a resurrection.

And it wasn't over, even though, in the end, the young bull would prevail.

Federer immediately lost his first service game of the final set and Djokovic had that swagger back. But serving at 2-0, it now was time for Federer's last stand. Djokovic started 30-love, then got it to 40-30. But grandfather time again was put on hold as the Swiss master turned up the pressure with four break points and finally got it on his fifth.

It was back on serve, and a shaken Djokovic, after thinking he'd had things under control, went to his sideline chair, sat down and smashed his racket to smithereens. That's also something you are not likely to see again from him.

Nor will you often see the momentum turn again so quickly on a player like Federer. At 2-3, Djokovic got a break point and Federer double faulted.

"I saw then that he was human, too," Djokovic said later.

The run was over. It was now a one-player trophy dash. Federer hit a forehand wide and the scoreboard showed 2 hours 17 minutes on the time clock and a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory for Djokovic.

"It was disappointing to sort of let it slip away," Federer said, "and the next thing you know, the match is over."

Federer was diplomatic when asked about the value of the crowd boosting his effort.

"I felt like they wanted to see a third set," he said. "I was hoping that was not just for the match itself, but for me personally. . . . They wanted to see more tennis, or more drama, so I'm disappointed the end was a little flat from my side."

Djokovic, shown on TV appearing clearly shaken after the tiebreaker — his hand trembling as he sipped water — said he understood, and has never resented, the emotion for Federer.

"First, he's been around on the tour for so many years," Djokovic said. "Plus, he's a great guy, on and off the court.

"I have to earn my support, here or at any other tournament . . . on and off the court, I have to carry myself in the right way."

Federer and Djokovic have now played each other 38 times. Federer leads, 20-18, and had won their two previous matches.

This was Djokovic's second straight Indian Wells title — he beat Federer in last year's final — and he now has four, same as Federer. He also has 50 tour titles.

"I had a great run," Federer said, ". . . and wished and hoped I could have won today. But Novak was tough and played very well. He deserved it and I will respect that."

After what they saw Sunday, the big crowd in the stadium and the many more watching on TV will respect them both, but still love the old guy just a little more.

bill.dwyre@LATimes.com

Twitter: @DwyreLATimes

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