Three-time Indian Wells Masters champion Rafael Nadal takes on Fernando Verdasco in the third round on Tuesday as the BNP Paribas Open starts to heat up.
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Rafael Nadal faces Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday as blockbuster clashes start to emerge at the bottom half of the Indian Wells Masters draw.
With every seed in the bottom quarter of the 2017 Indian Wells draw coming through their opening second-round match, the eye-catching clashes which caused people to nickname this the ‘quarter of death’ will begin when the third round is played on Tuesday, including fifth seed and former three-time champion Nadal taking on Fernando Verdasco.
Nadal, who won the Indian Wells Masters in 2007, 2009 and 2013, and made the semifinals in 2016 before losing to Novak Djokovic, is looking for his first hard-court title since the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha in January 2014 and his first hard-court Masters 1000 Series title since Cincinnati in 2013. There will have been times in the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s last two troubled seasons when even some of his fans will have wondered if his days of winning the biggest titles on this surface were over – but the world no. 6 has put himself right back into that conversation with his performances so far in 2017, finishing runner-up at the Australian Open and in Acapulco with wins over Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic in the process.
And yet a hint of vulnerability remains. Nadal let a lead slip over Raonic in the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International at the start of the season, and he failed to bounce back from a tough semifinal when he took on Federer in the Melbourne final, suffering a rare defeat to his arch-rival. In Acapulco, he looked poised to claim the title when he suffered a completely unexpected loss to Sam Querrey. All of this is explicable, and none of it is poor per se, but it’s plain that the 30-year-old is not quite at his impenetrable, resilient best.
‘I haven't played one very bad match during the whole season,’ Nadal said on Sunday. ‘I played some great matches. In Melbourne, I played some great matches. In Acapulco, I played well. In Brisbane, I played well. Let's see here. I'm very happy with the way I started the season. Now here is another opportunity. I know I have a very tough draw, and let's see.’
Nadal took 81 minutes to beat Guido Pella when he opened his Indian Wells Masters campaign on Sunday, although he dropped serve twice against the outmatched Argentine.
‘It was a solid match,’ Nadal said. ‘It was a first-round match where I didn't try to do amazing things. I tried to play solid. I tried to find the rhythm and I think I did. For moments I played well, for moments I played a little bit less well. The important thing is I won and I won in straight sets. I had some good feelings for a lot of moments. In general terms, I think I played a solid match.
‘I adapt myself better to the dry heat than to the humid heat. I think it's easier for the players to resist that conditions than when it's very, very humid. But it's true that today was hot and there was a lot of sun out there. It was difficult to control the ball. The ball was flying a lot.’
Fernando Verdasco (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Under the circumstances, a third-round clash with Fernando Verdasco seems like an excellent test for Nadal with greater challenges looming ahead (the winner of the Nadal-Verdasco match will face either Steve Johnson or, much more probably, Roger Federer in the fourth round on Wednesday).
Verdasco’s brief stint as a top-10 player might be a long time in the past – he was ranked as high as world no. 7 back in 2009, the year he made his first and only Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open and played that classic five-setter against Nadal – but he remains a dangerous floater, having scored at least one win over a top-10 player for each of the past three seasons: He is 22-90 lifetime against the top 10.
A quarterfinalist at the Indian Wells Masters back in 2009, Verdasco has made a very good start to the season and has already risen from world no. 42 to world no. 29 on the strength of some good performances. He made the semifinals of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha in January before losing to Djokovic, pushing the world no. 2 to a third set – and then had the bad luck to draw Djokovic in the first round of the Australian Open. Verdasco wasn’t able to repeat the feat of shocking a top seed in the first round in Melbourne, as he had done to Nadal in 2016, and didn’t impress in defeats to Daniil Medvedev in Montpellier and Martin Klizan in Rotterdam, but he beat Roberto Bautista Agut and Gael Monfils on his way to the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, losing to Djokovic, a couple of weeks ago and opened his Indian Wells Masters campaign with a 7-6(5), 6-1 victory over Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Nadal owns a commanding 16-3 head-to-head against Verdasco, but Verdasco has won three of the last five, beating Nadal on clay in Madrid in 2012, at the Miami Masters in 2015 and at the Australian Open in 2016. This time last year, however, Nadal beat Verdasco 6-0, 7-6(9) at this very event and a similar scoreline looks to be indicated here as the two left-handed Spaniards face off on Tuesday.