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Roger Federer keeps them happy on a perfect day

He offers just enough drama in victory before a packed house at Indian Wells.

March 15, 2009|BILL DWYRE

It was a day of tennis heaven in the desert Saturday, one of those right out of the Indian Wells tourist brochures.

Temperatures in the low 80s were modified by a slight breeze. In mid-afternoon, a wisp of cloud interrupted the endless blue, but only for a few minutes, until it drifted away, probably on command from the Chamber of Commerce.

People strolled leisurely, napped under trees on meticulously manicured lawns and munched on ice cream cones. It had been slightly stressful getting in -- a traffic jam for tennis, if you can believe that -- but once in, it became a walk in the park.

"We could have sold 4,000-5,000 more tickets today," said Charlie Pasarell, tournament chairman for this BNP Paribas Open, "but we couldn't park any more cars. The police told us we had to stop selling tickets."

In between the trips to the food court and T-shirt stores, they even watched some tennis.

The biggest draw, of course, was Roger Federer, who flicked away his second-round opponent, giving a packed house in the stadium just enough drama with a first-set tiebreaker to make it look competitive.

When it came time to go to dinner, Federer served it out at love against 52nd-ranked Frenchman Marc Gicquel and the more than 16,000 people who were in the stadium could tell their friends they saw a good one in the 7-6 (4), 6-4 result.

While Federer, resplendent in navy blue, held official court, Rafael Nadal practiced across the way. He hit backhands, forehands, even some serves. It was so predictable and routine that he and his hitting partner couldn't help but giggle as the crowd around the practice court grew to four and five deep. Cameras clicked non-stop and many young females grew weak-kneed and glassy-eyed.

Today, it will be Nadal's turn in the office, taking his No. 1-ranking to center court against Michael Berrer of Germany in the same late-afternoon spot Federer played Saturday.

Fourth-seeded Andy Murray beat Albert Montanes of Spain, 7-5, 6-3, and said, "It was good tennis for him."

Fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic beat Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus , 6-4, 6-3, and revealed that she likes to listen to soft-rock music in English and is reading a self-help book from which she hopes to achieve "inner happiness."

There were casualties, of course, because nothing can be perfect for everybody, even on a March Saturday in Indian Wells.

Third-seeded Elena Dementieva of Russia, the Beijing Olympic champion, was sent away early by Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, and appeared to have less appreciation for blue skies and gentle breezes.

"I shouldn't have come here," Dementieva said, "because I didn't have enough time to recover after playing so many matches in the beginning of the year."

Even more disappointing was the outcome of a match out on Court 4, right next to the ball kids' tent, where they put Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic.

This pair was so good in 2005 that they teamed to win Davis Cup for Croatia. En route to that, they beat the United States on home turf in the first round at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Ljubicic defeating both Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick and teaming with Ancic to beat the Bryan brothers in doubles.

Ljubicic has been as high as No. 3 in the world and is No. 74 now; Ancic as high as No. 7 and No. 29 now. They are friends, both big servers, both still capable of breaking through for big titles. Ancic even added to his profile recently by completing his law degree.

But anticipation turned to disappointment when Ancic defaulted after Ljubicic had served the match to 3-3 of the first set. The chair umpire announced that Ancic "was feeling ill," and Ljubicic, looking more like a big brother than a competitor who had just been handed an easy day at the office, stood and quizzed Ancic about his health for several minutes before they departed.

In the end, as day drifted toward night and stadium lights replaced blue skies, it was left to Federer to keep the mood light.

He assured everybody that his recently announced pregnancy of his longtime girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec was "just happiness" and deflected requests for a due date by revealing only that "the baby is due in the summer, and summer is a big word."

Then, he had to face the tough question: How did he feel about a baby hippopotamus in a Switzerland zoo being named this year's most popular Swiss?

"The hippo is from Basel, my hometown," Federer deadpanned, "so guess I can take that loss."




BNP Paribas Open


Stadium 1 (starting at 11 a.m.)

Vera Zvonareva, Russia, vs. Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic; Novak Djokovic, Serbia, vs. Martin Vassallo Arguello, Argentina; Dinara Safina, Russia, vs. Shuai Peng, China; Rafael Nadal, Spain, vs. Michael Berger, Germany.

(starting at 7 p.m.)

Daniel Koellerer, Austria, vs. Andy Roddick; Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan vs. Roger Federer, Switzerland/Yves Allegro, Switzerland.

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