(Reuters) – A rejuvenated Roger Federer beat fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka 6-4 7-5 in the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday to earn a record-tying fifth Indian Wells title and the distinction of being the tournament’s oldest winner.
The 35-year-old Swiss, who made a stunning return from a six-month injury layoff to win the Australian Open in January, capped an impressive run in the California desert in which he did not lose a set.
“I have totally exceeded my expectations. My goal was to be top eight by Wimbledon. This is just a dream start,” Federer, who will climb four spots to world number six on Monday, told Sky Sports courtside.
“I understand the talk about (me getting back to) world number one with Andy (Murray) and Novak (Djokovic) not playing well and I’ll try to back it up. But this is my 90th (tour-level) title so I’ll try to enjoy this first.”
The rematch of the Australian Open semi-final saw the close friends hold serve until the 10th game of the opening set when Federer, ahead 5-4, outlasted Wawrinka in a thrilling 21-shot rally for the service break.
Wawrinka, making his first appearance in an Indian Wells final, came out firing in the second set as he became the first player to break Federer this fortnight and then saved a pair of break points in the next game to move ahead 2-0.
But Federer never wavered as he coolly won the next three games and then broke Wawrinka in the 12th game to close out the match in 80 minutes.
On championship point, Federer jumped right on Wawrinka’s serve and quickly had his compatriot running back and forth along the baseline.
Finally, when Wawrinka reached out desperately to send a forehand back, Federer charged to the net and slammed down a running forehand to clinch the title.
While the defeat left Wawrinka an emotional wreck, with the teary-eyed U.S. Open champion calling himself Federer’s “biggest fan”, the popular champion was left to soak up a standing ovation.
Federer now joins Djokovic as a five-time winner at the event and becomes the oldest champion in the tournament’s history, surpassing Jimmy Connors who was 31 when he triumphed in 1984.
“I was very sad when I couldn’t come here last year so just being here is a beautiful feeling,” Federer said during the trophy presentation.
“It’s been just a fairytale week. I’m still on the comeback. I hope my body is going to allow me to keep on playing.
“I came here for the first time 17 years ago so to be here again as the champion is an amazing feeling. And I can’t tell you enough what it means to me.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)