By Ricky Dimon
The loaded bottom quarter of the BNP Paribas Open bracket is close to being sorted out, and it will be won by either Roger Federer or Nick Kyrgios on Friday. Federer is coming off a ruthless defeat of Rafael Nadal, while Kyrgios upset Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. Kei Nishikori and Jack Sock are also trying to book a place in the semis.
Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.
(9) Roger Federer vs. (15) Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios is a combined 4-1 lifetime against Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. He will get another cracket at one of those all-time greats when he meets Federer for a second time in the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals on Friday. Kyrgios won their only previous contest 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-6(12) on the red clay of Madrid in 2015.
The 21-year-old Australian has avoided any such drama with Djokovic this month, twice ousting the second-ranked Serb in straight sets–first in Acapulco and again via a 6-4, 7-6(3) decision on Wednesday at the Indian Wells Masters. Kyrgios, who preceded that win with routine defeats of Horacio Zeballos and Alexander Zverev, is 10-3 in 2017 with semifinal finishes in Marseille and Acapulco.
Federer has been just about perfect in 2017, and he might be all the way perfect if not for a stunning collapse against Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai. The Swiss’ 11-1 record includes his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and straight-set victories in the desert over Stephane Robert, Steve Johnson, and Nadal. Federer, who needed five sets to survive Nadal in an epic final at Melbourne Park, destroyed the Spaniard 6-2, 6-3 in a mere one hour and eight minutes on Wednesday evening. The ninth seed is playing ultra-aggressive tennis and striking his backhand better than ever, so Kyrgios will have to deliver an other-worldly serving performance–better than against Djokovic–to prevent baseline rallies.
Pick: Federer in 3
(17) Jack Sock vs. (4) Kei Nishikori
Nishikori and Sock will be facing each other for the third time in their careers. The head-to-head series is tied up at one victory apiece, with Nishikori having steamrolled 7-5, 6-2 at the 2013 Washington, D.C. event before Sock picked up a 7-6(5), 6-4 win at the 2014 Shanghai Masters.
In typical Nishikori fashion, the No. 4 seed has quietly gone about his business in the California desert while destroying everyone and everything in his path. He has not lost a set–and has not even come close to losing a set–in blowouts of Dan Evans, Gilles Muller, and Donald Young.
Sock, whose previous best performance at this tournament was a fourth-round showing in 2015, has done extremely well to surpass that accomplishment. The American is through to the quarterfinals thanks to a trio of victories–all from a set down–over Henri Laaksonen, Grigor Dimitrov, and Malek Jaziri. He even fought off four match points against Dimitrov on Tuesday. Sock, who might be fatigued at this point, will not be able to get away with another slow start against an opponent of Nishikori’s caliber.
Pick: Nishikori in 2