Roger Federer heads into the ‘unknown’ with early Rafael Nadal showdown at Indian Wells
Old rivals to reprise their classic Australian Open final clash with fourth-round meeting at BNP Paribas Open
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will reprise their epic Australian Open title clash when they meet Wednesday in the fourth round at Indian Wells.
It will be the 36th career meeting between the two, but Federer – who vanquished Nadal in Melbourne to claim his 18th grand slam title – admits their first meeting before the quarter-finals of a tournament since 2004 will have something of a different flavour.
“Because it’s early in the tournament, I think we both don’t quite yet know to 100 per cent how everything feels,” said the Swiss, who edged American Steve Johnson 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-4) to book the blockbuster.
“So there is a bit of the unknown. which is exciting maybe for the fans to see how we’re going to try to figure that part out.
“And then it’s a best of three set match. This is more of a sprint than a marathon, not like in Australia.”
“It will feel different. It’s going to be more difficult for both of us just to rip winners into the corner.
“If you play at the early matches, you see usually the top guys not chase the lines so much. You give yourself some margins for error. So I think the match will be played a bit different.”
Despite Federer’s Melbourne triumph, Nadal still retains a healthy advantage in their career head-to-head, leading 23-12.
However, the last time the pair met before the quarter-finals of a tournament was their first meeting in the round of 32 at Miami in 2004.
Then, 14-time grand slam champion Nadal was a hungry teenager taking on an already-established star – and winning.
“It was a long time ago,” said Nadal, who progressed with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. “I went on court, nothing to lose. A lot of motivation to play against, I think, number one already.
“For me to play with Roger, doesn’t matter if it was in that early round, I didn’t feel it was unlucky for me. It was a beautiful match, and I tried to go out on court and enjoy it and fight for it.”
Federer and Nadal’s quarter of the draw is a particularly brutal one, with world number two Novak Djokovic also lurking.
“I think is unlucky part of the draw for everybody,” said Nadal. “In this case, doesn’t matter if everybody is playing well, because from our part of the draw, only one of us is going to be in that semi-finals. So that’s tough. The only thing we can do to avoid that is be in higher position in the rankings.”
Djokovic made it past dangerous Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who shocked the Serb star in the first round of the Rio Olympics last year en route to singles silver.
The world number two eked out the first set despite going down an early break, but couldn’t do the same in the second.
In the third, however, he raced away with it, winning the last five games with what he called “probably the best tennis I’ve played this year” to claim a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 victory.
“Obviously against DelPo, who has a big serve, to be able to break him two times in a set was great and I’m just hoping I can carry this confidence level, especially on the return, to the next match,” added Djokovic.
His reward for beating former US Open winner Del Potro is a meeting with 21-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios, who stunned Djokovic in their first ever meeting this month in Acapulco.
Kyrgios defeated Germany’s Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4 in a battle of two of the ATP Tour’s most exciting young talents.
With the loaded bottom quarter the focus of attention, fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan quietly advanced to the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.
Nishikori booked a date with unseeded American Donald Young, who ousted 14th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
American Jack Sock saved four match points in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7) win over Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov. Sock, winner of ATP titles in Auckland and Delray Beach this year, next faces Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri, a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 winner over 19-year-old American Taylor Fritz.