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BNP Paribas Open: Djokovic Doesn't Djoke Around in Indian Wells

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With cloudy skies draping Stadium 1 of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Novak Djokovic pounced on the world’s top player Rafael Nadal’s second serve in the third set to win the 2011 BNP Paribas Open 4-6; 6-3; 6-2.

And it was Djokovic’s return game that kept 16,754 fans that packed the stadium guessing all match long. As Djokovic’s quarterfinal opponent Richard Gasquet of France remarked, “Djokovic has the best return. Compared to Rafa and Roger [Federer], he has the best return.”

“He’s definitely a good returner,” Nadal conceded.

That made for a wild first two sets where Nadal and Djokovic exchanged breaks in both sets: Nadal breaking right back after the exchange in the first set to go up 4-3 and Djokovic responding as such to take a 5-3 lead in the second set.

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“I think I was playing my best match here,” Nadal said. “The first set I think I played really good, having control of most of the points. I felt well.”

But come the second set Nadal’s serve left him, his first serve percentage a measly 25 percent.

“The serve was the difference today,” Nadal said. “Nobody can play with this percentage. But playing against Novak Djokovic, it’s impossible with match play and with the second serve all the time.”

Thus Djokovic went on a six-game run to take a 4-0 lead in the deciding third set and didn’t look back.

“I was trying to convince myself to take one point at a time, and not think about what can happen,” Djokovic said. “I think it was the right attitude.”

Djokovic broke his two-match losing streak to Nadal who still leads 16-8 in head-to-head meetings and now has a 20-match winning streak and 18-0 this year. His last loss was to Federer in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London on Nov. 27, 2010. Despite that he doesn’t feel unbeatable.

“I do have the best period of my life on the tennis court, but nobody is invincible,” Djokovic said. “Still you are just trying to play your best in each match you’re playing.”

Meanwhile Djokovic’s neighbor in his Monaco apartment building did her job. Caroline Wozniacki outlasted Marion Bartoli 6-1; 2-6; 6-3 in a match punctuated by long rallies and schizophrenic swings of momentum.

Early in the first set Wozniacki couldn’t get her first serve in and Bartoli was spraying the ball all over the place. No one grabbed the game until Wozniacki got her serve under control while leading 3-1.

“I felt like I had the most control,” Wozniacki commented on her first set. “I had her running. I had her moving.”

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That was the formula that gave her the set 6-1.

To Bartoli’s credit she turned things around going for her shot in the second set and eliminating a lot of the errors that cost her in the first set. With a 1-0 lead on serve, Bartoli fought to get a break chance. After Wozniacki got frustrated and threw her racquet to the ground after losing the fourth deuce point, Bartoli hit a winner on the line to get the early break of that set.

“After the first set I really started to play a lot better,” Bartoli said. “I was able to turn it around, start to hit the ball a lot better from the baseline, and I think we had some really good points from the both of us.”

Wozniacki gave a lot of credit to her opponent for making a match of it.

“She just went for her shots,” Wozniacki said. “She started to hit even harder. I didn’t feel I played badly - I thought actually I played pretty good, but she was very steady keeping the pressure.”

By the third set it was an endurance match highlighted by long rallies with Bartoli flaming out at the end.

“I just made a few mistakes at the end of the third set and some short balls,” Bartoli said. “I need to work a bit more to keep the level of intensity toward the end of the match. I dropped a little bit in the third set, and that cost me the match.”

Despite winning the third set 6-3, Wozniacki did have to make an effort to keep her emotions in check.

“I was thinking more just about me not being too hard on myself, just to keep staying positive,” Wozniacki said. “I was like, if she keeps playing like this, well then it’s just too good. But I’m not going to give her anything.”