Tennis: Djokovic stops Nadal to reach Indian Wells final

Tennis: Djokovic stops Nadal to reach Indian Wells final
Serbia's Novak Djokovic.
PHOTO: Reuters

Novak Djokovic toppled a resurgent Rafael Nadal in straight sets Saturday and to reach the final of the Indian Wells ATP Masters, where he'll be seeking a third straight and record fifth overall title.

The 28-year-old world number one from Serbia was the heavy favourite coming into the joint ATP and WTA Tour event and he showed why as he dispatched long time rival and nine-time French Open champion Nadal 7-6 (7/5), 6-2.

Djokovic improved to 21-1 this season and will square off in Sunday's final against Canadian Milos Raonic, who beat Belgian David Goffin 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the other semi-final.

The women's final is also on Sunday with Serena Williams vying for her first Indian Wells title since 2001 when she takes on former champion Victoria Azarenka.

Djokovic showed why he has been so dominant at Indian Wells, the hardcourt tournament in the California desert that he hopes this year will be a stepping stone to his first French Open title and a career Grand Slam.

Djokovic beat Roger Federer in three sets in the title match here the past two years, and now aims to surpass the record of four Indian Wells titles he shares with the Swiss.

Nadal, who will turn 30 in June, is also a multiple champion here having won three times in 2007, 2009 and 2013.

But the Spaniard had to work a lot harder to hold his serve for much of Saturday's one hour, 58 minute match, spending almost twice as long as Djokovic in his service games.

Djokovic blasted just two aces but hammered 23 winners compared to 12 winners for Nadal.

Nevertheless Nadal's solid Indian Wells effort allayed some of the fears raised by the 14-time Grand Slam champion's first-round exit at the Australian Open.

The 25-year-old Raonic stormed into his 17th career ATP final by overpowering Belgian 15th seed Goffin.

Raonic, who is going through a makeover under the tutelage of new coach Carlos Moya, blasted 10 aces in the two-hour match to help counter 35 unforced errors.

"I lost my way a little in the second set, but in the third I stuck to my identity," Raonic said.

Raonic roared through the first set in 34 minutes but struggled in the second with his serve as he tried to increase speed without sacrificing other components of his game.

"I feel even when I am not playing my best I am able to find the answers," said Raonic.

"I am definitely able to play at a higher level this year and when a crisis occurs during a match I can find the solutions better." Raonic, known for dominating opponents with his booming serve, has added more variety to his serve and his backhand shots as he put Goffin away with early breaks in the first and third sets.

He credits former world number one Moya with helping him add more variety to his game and those improvements are just now becoming evident following a six-week layoff due to a torn thigh muscle.

The injury flared up in his five-set semi-final loss to Andy Murray at the Australian Open and Raonic was unable to play in the Davis Cup earlier this month when Canada was crushed 5-0 by France.

Raonic reached his first final since winning at Brisbane in January. He improved to 14-1 on the season.

The Canadian blasted 39 winners to 22 for Goffin and won 81 per cent of his first serve points. He clocked one serve in the opening set at 146 mph (234 Km/h), the fastest of the tournament.

Raonic avenged a three-set loss to Goffin in the quarter-finals at Basel in 2014, the only other time the two have met.

Goffin became the first player in the tournament to take a set off Raonic when he won the second.

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