The long and winding road to the finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California has reached its end. Both finals will feature battles between compatriots. Here is a look at each with ladies first.
(8) Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. (14) Elena Vesnina (Head-to-Head tied 1-1)
Two veteran Russians are the last women standing in a draw chocked-full of unpredictability and upsets. Both ladies are enjoying a late career resurgence. Vesnina was seen as mostly a doubles specialist at this point in her career prior to last year. Something clicked though, and she improved her year-end ranking by 95 spots from 2015.
That form is carried over into this year. She has made her way through this draw without much drama or fanfare. Her biggest win in this event was knocking off soon to be world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the round of 16. She followed that up by grinding out a tough three set win over Venus Williams.
Vesnina has always had the serve and groundstrokes to play with anybody, but a tendency to tighten up in the big moments has held her back on the singles court. Now at age 30, Vesnina finds herself in the biggest singles final of her career.
Svetlana Kuznetsova has had a career of extreme ups and downs. The ups have seen her win two Grand Slam singles titles. The downs have seen her fall outside the top 70 in singles as recently as late 2012. However, staying healthy throughout 2016 helped Kuznetsova have one of her most consistent years on tour and finish inside the top 10 for the first time since 2009.
Like her countrywoman, Kuznetsova has navigated the draw pretty easily. She has only had one three setter. She has won many big titles in her career, but never this one. The 31-year-old will relish the chance to add Indian Wells to her already stellar résumé.
Both of these players have been around for over a decade. Thus, I am stunned this will be only their third meeting on the singles court. Vesnina has had only one match anywhere close to this one in terms of importance in her singles career. She won just two games from Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals last year. Conversely, Kuznetsova has had dozens of matches like this in her career.
The experience edge is key. Kuznetsova also hits a very heavy ball with spin rarely seen on the women’s tour. It can be a nightmare for players who have not seen it often. This is enough for me to peg Kuznetsova to take this title fairly routinely. The pick: Kuznetsova in two sets.
Now let’s look at the men’s matchup.
(3) Stan Wawrinka vs. (9) Roger Federer (Head-to-Head: Federer leads 19-3)
This final has much more star power than the ladies match, but there is much less that can be said about it. Roger Federer may be having the best tournament of his career as ludicrous as it sounds. That is a massive statement for the greatest player that ever lived. He has not dropped a set and was at the peak of his powers in a 58 minute destruction of frequent rival/conqueror Rafael Nadal in the round of 16.
His serve and forehand have always been fantastic throughout his legendary career. However, his one-handed backhand has also been a weapon this week. Federer is nearly unbeatable when this is the case.
I have immense respect for Stan Wawrinka’s game and ability to play his best at big events. He has come from seemingly nowhere to win a Grand Slam each of the last three years. This gives him a punchers chance tomorrow. Also, his effort to reach this final has been very gutsy, pulling out two final set tiebreakers.
Federer is just playing too well at the moment to pick against. His ranking will continue to rise no matter what happens here. Each time these friends, countrymen and occasional doubles partners face off, there is an element of the big brother that does everything just a tick better than his younger brother. The pick: Federer in two sets.
The finals will air live back to back at 2 ET Sunday on ESPN.