Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Strange but true: Fed, Nadal to meet early in BNP

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal advanced to the fourth round
of the BNP Paribas Open with straight-set victories on Tuesday.
Photos by Mal Taam
   INDIAN WELLS -- Some things just aren't supposed to happen.
   People with no political or military experience aren't supposed to be elected president.
   The wrong movie isn't supposed to be announced as the Oscar winner.
   And Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal aren't supposed to meet in the fourth round of a tournament.
   But strange things do occur. And so it is at the BNP Paribas Open.
   Federer and Nadal, arguably the two greatest players in history, will face each other in the round of 16 today not before 5 p.m. in front of a likely sellout crowd in 16,100-seat Stadium 1. Tennis Channel will televise the showdown live.
   "It's a tough draw, but rankings are not the priority for both of us," Federer, seeded No. 9, said after holding off No. 24 Steve Johnson of Redondo Beach in the Los Angeles area 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) on Tuesday. "From that standpoint, if it happens fourth round or finals ... finals would be good. But anything else but a finals, it almost doesn't matter which round it would be."  
   No. 5 seed Nadal beat fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, the No. 26 seed, 6-3, 7-5. Also in the "quarter of death," No. 2 Novak Djokovic will face No. 15 Nick Kyrgios. Djokovic downed No. 31 Juan Martin del Potro, who used his percussive forehand to topple Federer for the 2009 U.S. Open title, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. Kyrgios, who upset Djokovic in the Acapulco quarterfinals the week before Indian Wells, dismissed No. 18 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4 in a matchup of rising stars.
   Djokovic has won five Indian Wells titles, including the last three. Federer has captured four and Nadal three.
   Nadal, Federer and del Potro have dropped in the rankings because of injuries. They are No. 6, No. 10 and No. 35, respectively.
   "Is probably not the best thing to have (big) matches that early in the tournament," Nadal said. "For the players, is not good because good players, for sure, going to go out early."
   Less than two months ago, Federer beat Nadal in five sets in the Australian Open final -- that's more like it -- for his ongoing-record 18th Grand Slam singles title. Nadal and Pete Sampras are tied for second with 14.
   Federer, 35, hadn't won a major since Wimbledon in 2012, and Nadal, 30, hasn't taken one since the 2014 French Open.
   This match will be much different than the Australian Open final, Federer said, not only because of the round but the conditions and format.
   "It will feel different," Federer conceded. "It's going to be more difficult for both of us just to rip winners into the corner. That's normal. If you play early matches, you usually see the top guys not chase the lines so much. You give yourself some margins for error.
   "So I think this match will be played a bit different. This is a hardcourt, I know, but it plays very different to Australia. We have different balls, different grit of court. Because it's early in the tournament, I think we don't quite yet know 100 percent how everything feels.
   "So there is a bit of the unknown, which is exciting maybe for the fans or you guys to see how we're going to figure that part out. And then, it's a best-of-three-set match. This is more of a sprint than a marathon like in Australia."
   Nadal leads Federer 23-12 in their head-to-head series. This will be their earliest meeting in a tournament since their first one. Nadal, then 17, upset Federer, who already was ranked No. 1, 6-3, 6-3 in the third round at Miami in 2004.
   "I don't remember very well," Nadal said with a smile. "It was a long time ago. I went on court, nothing to lose. A lot of motivation to play against, I think, No. 1 already.
   "This is not like now. I want to win, and I want to be in the final round, and I want to fight for the tournament. In that moment, I was 17. And 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."
   On the women's side Tuesday, Angelique Kerber's struggles in the BNP Paribas Open continued, as the No. 2 seed lost to No. 14 Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-3 in the round of 16. Kerber, the champion of the 2015 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, had not won a match in three appearances at Indian Wells since reaching the semifinals for the second consecutive year in 2013.
   Nevertheless, Kerber will regain the No. 1 ranking on Monday because Serena Williams, last year's runner-up at Indian Wells, pulled out before the tournament with a knee injury.
   Vesnina, who will face No. 12 seed Venus Williams, is one of three Russian women in the quarterfinals. The other two, No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova and No. 19 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will play each other.
   The other quarterfinal matchups are No. 3 Karolina Pliskova vs. No. 7 Garbine Muguruza and No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki vs. No. 28 Kristina Mladenovic.          

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