Ricky’s preview and pick for Nadal vs. Federer in the Indian Wells fourth round
By Ricky Dimon
The bottom quarter of the BNP Paribas Open draw has already witnessed a battle between rising stars Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin Del Potro had to play on Tuesday (Djokovic won in three sets).
But if you think those matchups were intriguing, just wait until Wednesday.
Even though this Masters 1000 event has not yet even reached the quarters, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will renew their illustrious rivalry on Wednesday in Indian Wells. A spot in the last eight will be on the line when two of the greatest ever meet for the 36th time in their careers and for the second time this year. Nadal is leading the head-to-head series 23-12, but Federer–of course–most recently triumphed 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the Australian Open final two months ago. If the Swiss gets the job done again, their hard-court history against each other will be tied up at nine victories apiece.
Neither man had any real issues setting up a battle that was eagerly anticipated when the hard-to-believe Indian Wells draw was released almost exactly one week ago. Federer did not break serve a single time against Steve Johnson on Tuesday, but he cruised through two tiebreakers en route to a 7-6(3), 7-6(4) win. The 35-year-old preceded that result by destroying Stephane Robert 6-2, 6-1 in the second round. He is now 10-1 this season, with his only loss coming at the hands of Evgeny Donskoy in a 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) Dubai thriller during which Federer squandered three match points, a 5-2 lead in the third set, and a 5-1 advantage in the final tiebreaker.
Nadal earned his place in the last 16 this fortnight thanks to straight-set victories over fellow left-handers Guido Pella and Fernando Verdasco. Thus the world No. 6 is recovering impressively from a surprising Acapulco final setback against an on-fire Sam Querrey, who had previously upset David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, and Nick Kyrgios in a row.
“(I’m) very excited,” Federer assured. “I said it at the press conference in the beginning (of this tournament), that’s why I came here–(to) play against guys like Rafa. Now we have it.”
“Everything,” Nadal answered with a smile when asked what makes Federer so special. “Yeah, he has the talent to do very difficult things that looks easy. He’s able to take the ball very early–serve and first shot. He [creates] a lot of winners with the two first shots, no? And then he’s able to take the ball always from inside (the court), and he’s very quick going to the net. If you play short ball, then you know that he [is going to] hit a winner, gonna play [either a] forehand or backhand, go to the net, and you are going to be in big trouble.
“His backhand in Melbourne was one of the best days that I played against him.”
It is true that Federer’s backhand has been outstanding recently, but he also had the benefit in Melbourne of facing Nadal on what was a relative ice rink compared to Australian Opens of previous seasons. The conditions are nowhere near the same in the California desert, where courts are slow and the balls bounce higher.
Longer rallies will likely be the story in this one, and many of those baseline exchanges will see Nadal successfully employ the strategy that has worked so well for him against Federer in the past: heavy topspin forehands to his opponent’s backhand.
Pick: Nadal in 2