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Ricky’s tennis picks and preview for the Indian Wells final: Nadal vs. Fritz

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Carlos Alcaraz of Spain during their semifinal match at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 19 March 2022. EPA-EFE/JOHN G MABANGLO

By Ricky Dimon

It will be a figurative and possibly literal last-man-standing kind of battle when Rafael Nadal goes up against Taylor Fritz in the BNP Paribas Open final.

The road to Sunday’s championship was an absolutely wild one for both players. Nadal should have been out of the tournament right away to Sebastian Korda, but the Spaniard recovered from a double-break down in the third set to survive. He beat Nick Kyrgios in a three-setter on Thursday and needed three hours and 12 minutes to get past Carlos Alcaraz in the semis. Fritz went to third-set tiebreakers in consecutive matches against Jaume Munar and Alex de Minaur before requiring three more sets to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic in the quarters.

Not too surprisingly, both guys are dealing with potential injury issues. Nadal’s chronic foot condition bothered him against Dan Evans and Reilly Opelka in the third and fourth round, respectively, and he took a medical timeout in the third set against Alcaraz for an apparent pectoral problem. Fritz tweaked an ankle late in his semifinal win over Andrey Rublev.

Hopefully those factors won’t impact what has been a perfect season for Nadal and a dream fortnight for Fritz.

Nadal is 20-0 in 2022 and has won the Melbourne 250, Australian Open, and in Acapulco. With his five most recent victories he is now 59-10 lifetime in Indian Wells with titles in 2007, 2009, and 2013.

Taylor Fritz of the United States in action against Andrey Rublev of Russia in the second set of the men’s semifinal during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 19 March 2022. The tennis tournament runs from 07-20 March 2022. EPA-EFE/RAY ACEVEDO

The best tennis of Fritz’s career dates back to Indian Wells last fall, when he made a semifinal run at what is quite obviously his favorite tournament. Since that point in time he is 25-8 in the span of 33 matches, including a 13-4 record this year. The 20th-ranked American is 14-5 lifetime in the desert after enjoying the biggest moment of his career with Saturday’s 7-5, 6-4 upset of Rublev.

“It’s like — I said it yesterday — it’s like those moments are the reason why I wanted to be an athlete, wanted to play professional tennis,” Fritz said. “It’s the best part of it all.”

Now he faces the tour’s current best player.

“The worst thing (about playing against Nadal),” Fritz explained, “is probably just knowing that he’s just going to keep fighting, he’s always going to be there every point, he’s not going to like give you anything, it’s just the competitiveness–like, he’s always going to want it so bad.

“The best thing is…I’m not going to get completely like served off the court. I can potentially get looks at return games. But he’s such a good returner that it kind of works the other way; he’s going to get looks at my serves. I’ve been serving great all week, but he’ll still return my serve.”

Nadal has been withstanding anything thrown at him in 2022, and Sunday should be no different. Although an upset would not come as a huge shock given the circumstances of the overall fortnight for both players, it’s impossible to pick against the 21-time Grand Slam champion right now.

Pick: Nadal in 2

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.