Another popcorn match awaits at the 2017 BNP Paribas Open, with three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic facing entertainment machine Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round at Indian Wells on Wednesday.
Just a couple of weeks removed from their first ever meeting in the Mexican coastal city of Acapulco, Nick Kyrgios targets a second upset of World No. 2 Novak Djokovic - this time under the burning sun in the Californian desert of Indian Wells. Kyrgios produced some swashbuckling tennis to take down Djokovic in straight sets in Acapulco - joining compatriot Lleyton Hewitt as the only men in history to win their first ever meetings against Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Can lightning strike twice for the rising Australian? Or will Djokovic, who returned to some of his best form in conquering Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, silence the Next Generation star and continue on his path towards an unprecedented fourth consecutive Indian Wells title? Don’t miss this blockbuster showdown, played not before 3.00pm local time on Stadium 1 on Wednesday.
Putting it bluntly and honestly, Novak Djokovic hasn’t played his best tennis since completing a historic career grand slam at the French Open last June. His motivation and focus has understandably wavered, and so as his tennis as a result. He hasn’t won a grand slam since and has relinquished his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray. Djokovic’s troubles continued into 2017, falling to Denis Istomin in a shock for the ages in the second round of the Australian Open, while he suffered another early exit in Acapulco to Kyrgios, as mentioned before.
However the five-time Indian Wells champion produced one of his best sets of tennis since midway through last year on Tuesday night in the desert during a 7-5 4-6 6-1 victory over Juan Martin del Potro. After splitting the first two sets with his Argentine rival - as he did in Acapulco a couple of weeks ago - Djokovic was back to his brilliant best in the decider, ripping some superb backhand winners from the baseline in what was a vintage display to close the match emphatically.
Djokovic’s triumph saw the Serbian draw level with Pete Sampras for 10th in the Open Era in terms of career wins (762), while he also joined Federer and Nadal as the only players to notch up 300 Masters 1000 victories.
Improving to a 49-6 record at Indian Wells and undefeated at the tournament since falling to del Potro in the 2013 semi-finals, Djokovic will now march forward in the ‘quarter of death’ on Wednesday when he targets revenge against Nick Kyrgios.
In one of the most hotly-anticipated meetings of the season to date, Kyrgios produced a calm and measured performance to derail fellow Next Generation star Alexander Zverev in straight sets earlier on Tuesday.
Nick Kyrgios (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Kyrgios was dominant throughout the contest, breaking Zverev on three occasions while also finding time to deliver his trademark tweener to emerge a 6-3 6-4 winner in just 73 minutes.
“I thought I just competed well. It was always going to be a tough match. He's been playing great tennis and on the rise ever since juniors. I knew it was going to be tough,” Kyrgios said afterwards. “He's got a big game. I was happy with my performance.”
Currently ranked 16 in the world, Kyrgios is aiming for another deep run at a Masters 1000 tournament after advancing to the semi-finals of Miami last year - his best result at a Masters to date. Following a disappointing Australian Open campaign, where he lost in the second round to Andreas Seppi in five sets in a match filled with controversy, Kyrgios has responded tremendously. Sure, he failed to defend his Marseille title, but he was still impressive in falling 6-4 in the third in the semi-finals to an on-fire Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, while he produced one of his finest displays in knocking off Djokovic 7-6(9) 7-5 in Acapulco before going down to eventual champion Sam Querrey in a close three-set contest in the semi-finals.
But can Kyrgios do it again? Of course he’s capable. But if Djokovic can replicate his third set display from the del Potro win, then it will be much tougher. Kyrgios cannot afford to get into backhand to backhand exchanges with Djokovic at his best. He received multiple errors off that wing in Acapulco, but he can’t rely on that again. Kyrgios will also have to enjoy another fantastic serving day - he fired down 25 aces in two sets in Acapulco, and only just scraped through. If Kyrgios plays at his best and serves out of a tree again, I give him every chance. But the smart money says Djokovic lifts his level from their previous meeting and frustrates the Australian into error.