Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Switzerland’s Roger Federer stayed on track for a mouth-watering quarter-final showdown at the BNP Paribas Open after they both advanced to the last 16 on Monday.
Spaniard Nadal, twice champion at Indian Wells, was gifted his spot when Argentine Leonardo Mayer withdrew with a back injury before the start of their third-round match.
Federer, a four-time winner of the ATP Masters 1000 event, had minor back problems of his own, but progressed with a commanding 6-3, 6-1 victory over Croatian Ivan Dodig in a contest lasting just 61 minutes.
Federer and Nadal last met a year ago, also at Indian Wells, where the former won a semi-final battle 6-3 6-4.
Federer tweaked his back during the latter stages of his match against Dodig, but with a rest day yesterday, he was not worried that it could affect his last-16 match today.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened in my career, so I know how to deal with it,” the world No. 2 said.
Federer will next meet compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, who beat Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 7-5 in an evening match at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
“I’m walking fine, I have a day off tomorrow. Everything is all right,” Federer said. “It’s happened during Grand Slams, during tournaments, in practice. It’s just something you learn to deal with and as long as I keep on playing, it’s all right. I also know I have a longer break to recover, so from that standpoint, I’m not worried at all.”
World No. 5 Nadal, who is competing in his first tournament on a hardcourt surface in almost a year, was saddened when he learned that Mayer had withdrawn.
“That’s bad news for sure, for the fans and for Mayer, especially,” said the Spaniard, who will next face Latvian Ernests Gulbis. “I talked with him. It seemed like it’s nothing very, very bad, just a typical back problem, beginning when he was warming up his serve. The physio says maybe in four days, five days, he will be ready.”
“That’s the most important thing, that nothing is serious,” added Nadal, who was sidelined for seven months last year by a left knee injury.
Though Nadal has beaten Gulbis in their four previous meetings, the Latvian looked forward to challenging the Spaniard after winning his 13th consecutive match on Monday.
“When was the last time I won 13 matches in a row?” 67th-ranked Gulbis said after fighting back to beat Italy’s Andreas Seppi 5-7, 6-3 6-4. “Of course he’s a great player, but I honestly believe that if I play my best game I can beat him. I like to play against him because [of] his ball and his heavy spin, it’s good for my timing. I don’t like it when the opponents hit flat, deep balls.”
Second-seeded Federer, the defending champion at Indian Wells, improved his win-loss record this year to 12-3, after overcoming Dodig in their first meeting.
Dodig gave Federer a tough challenge early on and the opening set went with serve until the eighth game, when the Croatian made two consecutive double faults to be broken.
Federer then needed four set points to serve out, finally clinching the set in 34 minutes with a service winner that left his opponent floundering.
The Swiss maestro then took firm control, breaking Dodig in the first game, when the Croatian netted a backhand and also in the third, when his opponent again double faulted.
Federer sealed his victory by breaking Dodig for a third time, ending the match on yet another double by the 60th-ranked Croatian.