Djokovic, Halep overcome pressure

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The day was over and there were no more opportunities to add more spin to a doomed serve, no more chances to get the break back or win over the crowd. Shorn of cliché, unprotected by ego, Jelena Jankovic gave the people who say they are curious about the athlete's mind what they say they want.

With the ball in her hand and up a set, serving at 5-4 for the Indian Wells title (and the 38-pound Baccarat crystal trophy she had won five years ago lurking), Jankovic drifted backward.

"The nerves -- I got the nerves," Jankovic said. "My arm was super heavy. I could not even lift it. I mean, I don't know if you guys know, if you play sports and if you sometimes get nervous, but this is what happens. I don't know. The arm wouldn't go up. It's just I couldn't hit through the shot. That's what happened. I'm saying it honestly. I'm not going to lie. I'm not going to say excuses. It's just the way it is, and that's it."

Sunday, the 16,988 in attendance for the Indian Wells finals were witness to one long adventure in pressure. One Serbian, Jankovic, did not survive the experience and lost the final 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Romanian Simona Halep. Another Serb, Novak Djokovic, rediscovered the power of pressure, overcame his nerves and an unashamedly partisan pro-Federer crowd -- and ultimately Roger Federer himself to win a thriller, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2.

Pressure created drama and ridicule, for neither Halep nor Jankovic could hold serve either easily, if at all. In 30 service games, they combined to yield 30 break points and 18 breaks of serve. Jankovic dominated the first set. She was up a set and a break twice. She served for the match. She was up a break twice in the third set.

"I put myself in the position to win the match, to serve it out," Jankovic said. "I got a little bit nervous, a little bit tentative, and that was my big mistake."

Halep played her worst match of the tournament, yet won the biggest title of her emerging career. All this, even though she needed a medical timeout, injured her left ankle twice and was broken nine times. Halep was able to do what Jankovic could not: steady herself enough and confront the pressure better than her opponent. The pressure may not have created artwork on the court, but it was terrific theater and a reminder that there is more to being a champion than groundstrokes.

"If you cannot play your best tennis, then you fight like I did today," Halep said. "So it's compensating. Sometimes you fight to the end and sometimes you play good and cannot fight. In Australia, I think I played good tennis, but I couldn't fight. So for me, this is the most important thing: Fight to the end."

For a moment, when Djokovic broke Federer early and cruised to a 6-3 set and then broke for 3-1 in the second, it appeared there would be no pressure -- just a fourth trophy to solidify his status as the best player in the world.

Then, Federer made his charge, and the world that is Djokovic became infuriatingly unclear. The Serb is an eight-time Grand Slam champion. He is funny and personable. He is the world No. 1 and the defending champion of this tournament. But none of that mattered.

Djokovic has the credentials, the game and the personality to be the people's champion, but that title belongs to Federer. Each point won by Federer was met with an uproarious cheer from the crowd. The pressure was not simply being put on Djokovic by Federer -- but by the reminder that he is not Federer.

Djokovic won points to polite applause. He lost points to ferocious applause.

As the second set moved to a tiebreaker, Djokovic double-faulted three times, essentially handing Federer that portion of the match. In the third, Djokovic's hand shook as he drank water. He smashed a racket in frustration. Pressure, without a crowd to lift him, was taking away his championship.

"I don't know what to say," Djokovic said. "I can't identify the emotion that was behind it, but it was a little bit of everything."

After the match, Djokovic was philosophical on where he stands with the fans.

"Well, first of all," Djokovic said, "with all the success that [Federer] had throughout his career, he's somebody that's been around on the tour for so many years, plus he's a great guy on and off the court, and I'm sure its normal that he has the support, major support anywhere he goes, especially in the United States.

"So, I don't get upset with that, even though in the moments of the battle, you're sometimes looking for the support of the crowd. I did feel I had my support, but the majority was on his side. That's something that's normal. I don't really get upset for that. I expect that.

"I have to earn my majority of the support here or at any tournament with the time spent on this level, with the titles, and with my responsibility as somebody that is on top of the men's game. On and off the court, I have to carry myself in the right way and then hopefully one day the people will get to recognize that even more and more."

This past week, Federer said tennis is now living in the age of Djokovic. That's no understatement. Djokovic won the first major of the year and now the first Masters 1000, just as he did last year. He has a 4,000-point lead in the rankings over No. 2 Federer and leads Nadal and Murray by 7,000 points. Djokovic is proving a calendar Grand Slam, which hasn't been done since 1969, appears to be possible.

The pressure was suffocating, and Djokovic defeated it. He has won everything except the French Open and maybe, more importantly, the true hearts of the public.