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Federer on 'dream start' after winning Indian Wells title

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

By BETH HARRIS

AP Sports Writer

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) Forget the comeback talk. Roger Federer is back.

He defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-4, 7-5 to win a record-tying fifth BNP Paribas Open title in an all-Swiss final Sunday to go with his record 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January after missing most of last year with various injuries.

"For me, the dream run continues," he said.

Federer kept reminding everyone during the ATP Masters 1000 event that he was "on the comeback" and, wanting to see how he felt, hadn't planned beyond the first three months of year.

He might want to think bigger now.

"This was not part of the plan, to win Australia and Indian Wells. The goal was to be top 8 by after Wimbledon, so I'm there much, much faster," he said. "I will make the plan for the remainder of the season, especially for the clay, after Miami, and then see also what the goals are because the goals are clearly changing after this dream start."

Federer tied the tourney record of Novak Djokovic, who lost in the fourth round, while winning his 90th career title. He remains third behind Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl on the all-time list in the Open era.

At 35 years and seven months, Federer became the oldest champion in the desert tournament's history, surpassing Connors, who was 31 years and five months when he won in 1981.

"It's an absolute huge start to the year for me," he said. "Last year didn't win any titles. The change is dramatic and it feels great."

His twin daughters cheered and jumped up and down in a box above the court when Federer put away a high forehand volley while keeping Wawrinka pinned deep behind the baseline on match point.

Federer dropped serve just once in five matches, losing the first game of the second set against No. 3 seed Wawrinka. He saved one break point against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, and never lost a set in the tournament. Seeded ninth, Federer advanced to the semifinals via walkover when Nick Kyrgios withdrew.

"The way he's playing is just so beautiful," Wawrinka said. "Everything looks perfect. He's moving amazingly well. He has amazing touch. He's doing everything you can do on the tennis court."

In an all-Russian women's final, Elena Vesnina defeated Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4.

She and Federer earned $1,175,505 each.

Federer will move up four spots to No. 6 in the ATP world rankings on Monday.

He hit 23 winners, including 16 off his backhand in the 80-minute match. Wawrinka had 17 winners and 21 unforced errors in front of the announced crowd of 17,382 that didn't fill the stadium.

Federer improved to 20-3 against Wawrinka, including 15-0 on hard courts. Wawrinka's wins have all been on clay.

"He's the best player ever, so we all used to lose against him," Wawrinka said.

Vesnina had never advanced beyond the third round in singles and just last year she lost in the first round of qualifying, although she has won three doubles titles at the tournament. She beat No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber and No. 12 Venus Williams on her way to the biggest final of her career at age 30.

Kuznetsova is 0-3 in finals here, also finishing runner-up in 2007 and 2008.

At 31, Kuznetsova was the fifth-oldest women to reach the final. But the two-time major champion struggled with the lead while playing in front of hundreds of empty seats.

"I didn't feel good today because she was very aggressive and I was a little bit out of my game," said Kuznetsova, the No. 8 seed. "I couldn't figure out a lot the wind and stuff like that."

Kuznetsova led 4-2 in the third before 14th-seeded Vesnina broke her twice in sweeping the final four games of the match.

Kuznetsova served one of her nine aces to lead 4-1 in the second, prompting Vesnina to bring out her coach-father Sergey Vesnin for a chat.

It worked.

Vesnina reeled off four straight games to lead 5-4. Her forehand error led to Kuznetsova's break in the 10th game that tied it 5-all. But Vesnina broke back and served out the set 7-5.

"She had so many break points on my serve," Vesnina said. "She was 30-love up couple of times on her serves, and I always keep coming back."

Kuznetsova had luck on her side early, winning the first set on a net cord in the tiebreaker. She gave the traditional wave acknowledging her good fortune to Vesnina, who had blown leads of 2-0 and 4-2.

Vesnina had 46 winners and 49 unforced errors. She successfully gambled at the net, winning 24 of 32 points during the three-hour match.

Vesnina earned her third career singles title and will move up two spots to a career-high No. 13 in the world rankings on Monday.

Updated March 20, 2017

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