Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal set up a rematch of the Australian Open final in Melbourne this year after both registered straight sets wins over the American Steve Johnson and the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, respectively on Tuesday. Federer dropped only six points on his first serve in the entire match. He did not drop serve and wasted four break point chances in the early stages of the second set in a hard fought 7-6(3), 7-6(4) win over the 24th seeded Johnson, ranked 27th in the world.
Earlier in the day the fifth seeded Nadal proved too strong on important points in his, nearly 2hr 6-3, 7-5 win in an all Spanish left-handed players clash against the 26th seeded Verdasco. Verdasco, who had registered a shocking five set win against his much heralded country man at the Australian Open in 2016, could not repeat his Melbourne magic and Nadal ensured regular service was resumed in the rivalry dominated by the 3-time Indian Wells Champion.
The fourth-round encounter between Federer and Nadal will be 36th installment of their famed rivalry which Nadal leads 23-12, but Federer is a four-time Indian Wells Champion, won their last encounter as he lifted his 18th grand slam title after a five set classic hailed as one of the best matches of all time. This will be the third meeting in the California desert with Federer winning in 2012 and the Spaniard prevailing in 2013.
However, it will not get any easy thereafter as the winner awaits a potential clash against the defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia who too will have his hands full against the controversial Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios who defeated the second ranked Serb in straight sets in Acapulco. Just like he did two weeks ago, Djokovic beat the Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in three sets. The match lasted 2 hours and eighteen minutes, with Djokovic winning it 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.
Del Potro was the first to get off the blocks with an early break in the first set, but the five time champion broke twice to clinch the opener 7-5. The 31st seeded Argentine fought back bravely breaking serve twice to take a 4-1 lead in the second set before giving up a break but ultimately winning it 6-4. From 1-1 in the decider Djokovic raised his game to clinch the next five games, extending his head to head record to 13-3 against the same man who was the last player to beat the three time defending champion in Indian Wells – in the quarter final of the 2013 event. Kyrgios registered a surprisingly easy 6-3, 6-4 win over the German Alexander Zverev in a battle of GenNext stars.
The crowds had plenty to cheer about as Americans Jack Sock and Donald Young scored impressive wins to advance to the last sixteen stage. The 17th seeded Sock came from a set down to beat the in-form Bulgarian Grigor Dmitrov before winning 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(7). The left handed Young, upset the 14th seeded Frenchman Lucas Pouille 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Malek Jaziri though stopped another American Taylor Fritz who had upset the 7th seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia as he advanced after a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win. There were no problems for the fourth seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan who beat Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-2, 6-2.
The top half of the draw has only four seeded players taking their appointed places in the last sixteen as they advanced on Monday. The third seeded Stanislas Wawrinka beat the German veteran Phillip Kohlschreiber 7-5, 6-3. The eighth seeded Dominic Thiem beat another German Mischa Zverev 6-1, 6-4. Gael Monfils, seeded 10th is the lone Frenchman left in the draw as he beat the 2012 finalist and local hope John Isner 6-2, 6-4.
The eleventh seeded David Goffin who reached the last four in 2016, looks set to repeat this year as he beat the Spaniard Albert Ramos Vinolas 7-6(3), 6-4. The Sao Paulo winner Pablo Cuevas had a good win over the Italian Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-4. The Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta advanced after fellow countryman Roberto Bautista Agut conceded a walkover.
The remaining two slots are filled by the unseeded Dusan Lajovic of Serbia and the lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. The 70th ranked Nishioka upset the 13th seeded Tomas Berdych as he rallied after a dismal first set before coming through 1-6, 7-6(5),6-4 to record the biggest win of his career. Lajovic ended the giant killing run of Canada’s Vacek Pospisil after a hard fought 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-5 win. Pospisil had sensationally beaten the top seeded Andy Murray in the second round on Saturday.
The following then is the line up in the round of sixteen with my pick mentioned first :-
Pablo Carreno Busta (21) v. Dusan Lajovic (-)
David Goffin (11) v. Pablo Cuevas (27)
Stanislas Wawrinka (3) v. Yoshihito Nishioka (-)
Dominic Thiem (8) v. Gael Monfils (10)
Jack Sock (17) v. Malek Jaziri (-)
Kei Nishikori (4) v. Donald Young (-)
Roger Federer (9) v. Rafael Nadal (5)
Novak Djokovic (2) v. Nick Kyrgios (15)
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]