Another week, another title for men’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and as he continues to pile up important trophies and ascend up the record books.
With a 6-2, 6-0 romp over Milos Raonic, Djokovic claimed his fifth overall singles crown in Indian Wells, breaking a tie he had created last year with Roger Federer. Speaking of Federer, Djokovic joined him as the only players to three-peat at the event. The accolades go even further, as Djokovic tied Rafael Nadal’s record of 27 Masters titles.
After a sluggish start to the tournament following long travel for Davis Cup (in which he surprisingly needed five sets to fend off Mikhail Kukushkin), Djokovic shook off the cobwebs by stealing the first set of his semifinal against Nadal in a tiebreak. His first set of the event ended up being the only one he dropped, to American Bjorn Fratangelo. From there, he shook off sub-optimal efforts against quality opponents like Philipp Kohlschreiber and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before wearing down Nadal in their second set.
Raonic, on the other hand, had a stellar week-plus, taking out four top-20 players en route to the final in his first event since suffering an adductor injury in Australia. Unfortunately for him, the injury seems to have reoccurred in Sunday’s final, putting his participation in the Miami Open in doubt.
With that said, the injury clearly had no impact on the outcome, unlike other recent mid-match injuries (Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final, Kei Nishikori in the 2014 Madrid final). Djokovic was dominant from the first point, putting one of the tour’s most automatic servers under the gun in every service game. After a long first game ended in Raonic getting broken, it felt as if the match was already over.
The most astonishing stat of the match was Raonic winning just 3/30 second serve points. If the Canadian found his serve coming back at him, the gap in the quality of their groundstrokes was usually exposed, with Raonic either outclassed in neutral exchanges or forced to go for broke with low percentage shots.
Even for the elite servers like Federer, Raonic, John Isner and others, Djokovic simply puts immense pressure to put every serve in the right spot. Hard serves are returnable if the location isn’t right, and Djokovic’s wingspan and flexibility gives him such a wide range of area he can cover. With the exception of Federer, those players just aren’t capable of taking anything close to the necessary volume of baseline points to consistently hold.
And all of that is just to hold. It’s nearly impossible for a player like Raonic to break Djokovic. He’s made extremely commendable improvements to his return game, but Djokovic’s serve has become elite over the last season or so, resulting in Raonic failing to generate a single break point in either this final or their previous match, a quarterfinal at the 2015 Australian Open.
Raonic may not join him, but Djokovic will now head to Miami, seeking to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double for the third year in a row, a mind-boggling feat. It’s Novak Djokovic’s tour and everyone else is just fighting for second.