Roger Federer’s work wasn’t done after he completed his impressive 6-4, 7-5 victory over Stan Wawrinka on Sunday afternoon in the final of the BNP Paribas Open.
Noticing a bit of confetti had stuck to Wawrinka’s shirt from the congratulatory cascade unleashed when Federer became a five-time champion at Indian Wells, the fastidious Federer plucked away the offending bit of paper so Wawrinka could look his best for photographs.
Later, seeing Wawrinka begin to cry during post-match ceremonies at Stadium 1, Federer again stepped in to offer a smile instead of “the sad face” in an effort to cheer up his friend and tour rival.
That Wawrinka saw him and jokingly called his longtime Swiss Davis Cup teammate something close to a jerk — the polar opposite of Federer’s nature — added an amusing dimension to Federer’s remarkable run in his return from a knee injury that took him away from competitive tennis for six months.
“I get called that sometimes,” Federer said of the insult Wawrinka used. “Quite often, actually. On the court it’s the first time, but it felt good.”
Federer’s 80-minute dissection of Wawrinka was his 20th victory in their 23 career meetings, including a five-set semifinal at this year’s Australian Open before Federer went on to defeat Rafael Nadal in the final. But on Sunday, Wawrinka sounded like the president of the Roger Federer Fan Club, whose membership roll is measured in multitudes.
What makes the 35-year-old Federer so great?
“I think everything he’s doing on and off the court since more than 15 years now, not only the results he’s having but everything he gives back to the fans, to the sponsors, always with a smile. Always doing a lot for every tournament he’s playing,” said Wawrinka, who can boast he was the only player to break Federer’s serve in this tournament when he won the first game of their second set Sunday. Of course, Federer broke his serve to win the first set and broke him twice in the second set, including in the final game.
“And on the tennis court, he’s just amazing,” Wawrinka added. “The way he’s playing is just so beautiful, is just so nice. Everything looks perfect. He’s moving amazingly well. He has amazing touch. He’s doing everything you can do on the tennis court.”
Federer, whose fifth title tied the men’s record here, earned his 90th career tournament victory and 25th ATP Masters 1000 title. He insisted he didn’t expect to fare this well here. He didn’t lose a set in a run that included wins over serve specialist Steve Johnson in the third round and over Nadal in the fourth round. Federer got a break when his quarterfinal opponent, Nick Kyrgios, withdrew because of an illness but Federer neatly adjusted to the situation and efficiently took out young American Jack Sock in the semifinals.
“It’s an absolute, huge start to the year for me. Yeah, last year I didn’t win any titles. I don’t think I was in any finals except maybe Brisbane. The change is dramatic, and it feels great.”
That Brisbane tournament last January was the only one in which he was completely healthy last year. He injured his knee while giving his twin daughters a bath and tried to heal the knee through rest but it never felt right. He underwent surgery following his semifinal loss to Canada’s Milos Raonic at Wimbledon and didn’t return until the Australian Open, where he added to his impressive resume an 18th Grand Slam title, extending his all-time men’s record.
From the beginning of his recovery he targeted April as the point where he would take stock of his fitness and his progress. His win in Melbourne was tempered in his next tournament by a round-of-16 loss to 116th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy of Russia at Dubai, his last tournament before he arrived at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, but he said that loss might have been a good result because it showed he needed more time to regain his old level.
His victory Sunday will lift him to No. 6 in the rankings, and with No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic out of at least the next tournament at Miami because of injuries, there’s no telling where Federer will rank by the end of this year. “The goal was to be top eight by after Wimbledon,” he said. “You definitely have to reassess your goals maybe now and see where do you go from here. Because this was not part of the plan, to win Australia and Indian Wells, I can tell you that.”
Planned or not, there he stood Sunday, a champion once again. His next focus is on resting and preparing for the humidity of Miami and then the spring clay-court season. “Then see what the goals are,” he said, “because the goals are clearly changing after this dream start.”
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