INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Move over Roger Federer, there is another guy with a share of your crown as king of the desert.
Novak Djokovic defeated Federer 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2 to win his fourth BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, tying him with Federer for the most titles in the desert after winning for the second straight year.
“I am at the prime of my career,” Djokovic said. “I’m going to try to use every part of this fact to stay where I am and to fight for as many major titles as possible.”
Djokovic, ranked No. 1 in the world, and No. 2 Federer met for the 38th time, second-most among rivalries in the Open era. Federer leads the series 20-18 and had won three of their last four meetings going into the final.
But Federer made too many mistakes at crucial times, piling up 43 unforced errors to 35 for Djokovic. The Serb connected on 63 percent of his first serves, while Federer’s serve let him down. He double-faulted to trail 4-2 in the third as Djokovic won the last four games of the match.
“I felt huge relief, to be honest,” Djokovic said. “I saw I’m not the only one that is double-faulting under pressure. I got myself in a position to break and then he handed me that break. I thought I deserved it in a way because I really fought hard for it.”
Federer’s serve had carried him earlier in the tournament, when he faced just three break points in his first five matches and he saved two of those.
“I was trying to really focus a lot on my serve because it was very important because he returns so well off the second serve,” Federer said. “He really plays everybody really tough when he returns off the second serve, and I think that’s what also was tough today against him.”
Djokovic also won in three sets last year. He and Federer have combined to win eight of the last 11 titles in the desert, and they became the first two players to reach the final in consecutive years since the tournament began 40 years ago.
“He has been always the ultimate challenge, with (Rafael) Nadal, depending on which surface I get to play,” Djokovic said. “Obviously Nadal on clay is the toughest one to beat, and Roger on the quicker surfaces. But because they have been so dominant over the years and so consistent and so confident on the court, it’s very difficult to get into the mix and start winning titles against them.”
Simona Halep beat Jelena Jankovic 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the women’s final, giving the Romanian the biggest title of her career and a WTA Tour-leading third tournament victory of the year.
Djokovic and Halep earned $900,400 each.
On his way to his 50th career ATP Tour title, Djokovic broke Federer once to take the first set. Federer rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the second set for a 5-all tie. They traded love service games to get into the tiebreaker, where Djokovic took a 5-3 lead.
Djokovic double-faulted three times, including twice in a row, setting up Federer’s first break point. The Serb’s backhand lob sailed long, allowing Federer to tie the match at a set apiece.
Federer then broke Djokovic for a 2-1 lead in a game that went to deuce five times before Djokovic netted a backhand. Federer was the clear favorite among the crowd of 16,988, although chanting Serbian fans at the top of the stadium made their presence known.
“When I play Roger it’s something that you expect that he has more support because of who he is,” Djokovic said.
Federer held serve for a 2-all tie before Djokovic won the final four games of the match.
“You miss a couple of shots which you shouldn’t and then maybe I didn’t serve as good as I should have, and then that’s all Novak needs,” Federer said. “Then he doesn’t blink. It’s pretty quick.”
In the women’s final, Halep improved to 6-0 in three-set matches this year, smacking a cross-court forehand winner off Jankovic’s weak volley return on match point. The world’s third-ranked player advanced to the final when Serena Williams withdrew before their semifinal because of a sprained right knee.
“The first set was strange for me because I didn’t play for three days. It’s really tough to go straight to the finals,” said Halep, who hadn’t played since Wednesday.
Halep continues her rise in the sport, having broken into the top 10 a year ago and being a finalist at the French Open and semifinalist at Wimbledon last year. The 23-year-old Romanian reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January.
“I have another title, my biggest title now, so it’s amazing,” she said.
Jankovic won her biggest career title at Indian Wells in 2010. This time, she couldn’t hold a lead. She was up a set and a break in the second only to have Halep win two straight games and tie it 3-all.
Jankovic broke for a 5-4 lead on a smash and then was two points from victory on her serve in the next game, but Halep won the final three games of the set.
“I got a little bit tentative and that was my big mistake,” she said.
Both players struggled to hold serve in the third set, when there were seven breaks. The 2 1/2-hour match had 18 service breaks in all.
“I don’t know how I won today because I didn’t play my best,” Halep said.
Jankovic committed 61 unforced errors and had nine double-faults, smiling wryly after her last one gave Halep match point.
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