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competing in his first tournament on a hardcourt surface in almost a year, was saddened when he learned that Mayer had withdrawn.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.
In other matches, sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic eased past Florian Mayer of Germany 6-4, 6-1, while 10th-seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet swept aside Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz 6-1, 6-4.
In the women’s part of the BNP Paribas Open, Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka struggled to find her rhythm against Kirsten Flipkens in the third round of the tournament on Monday, but finished strong to beat the Belgian 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.
After the wayward start, the top seed and defending champion stormed through the final set, breaking her opponent’s serve in the first, third and fifth games, before serving out for victory when a Flipkens backhand flew long.
“Kirsten showed some incredible tennis and I did not play very well in the beginning,” Azarenka said courtside after improving her record this season to 16-0. “I just couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
“I wasn’t feeling very well today ... I just wanted to go to sleep instead of playing tennis,” the 23-year-old later told reporters. “I couldn’t breathe and I was too stupid ... to use a tissue, but she really played well, have to give her credit. She came out firing, playing so freely and going for every possible shot there was. I just didn’t adjust well.”
Asked how she had managed to rebound from her poor start, Azarenka replied: “I just blew out my nose, started breathing better, calmed down and started to see what I had to do, because before that I was kind of blinded.”
The Belarussian is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend the WTA title at Indian Wells since Martina Navratilova in 1991.
Azarenka, who demolished Russian Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-3 in last year’s final, will next face Poland’s Urszula Radwanska, who earlier overcame the US’ Jamie Hampton 6-0, 7-6 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Fourth seed Angelique Kerber also advanced, heeding the advice of her coach to come from 1-4 down in the final set to beat Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 7-6.
Told to rely on self-belief while concentrating on the strategy they had mapped out before the match, the German left-hander won five of the next seven games before clinching the tiebreak 7-4.
Kerber, a semi-finalist at Indian Wells last year, when she lost to eventual champion Azarenka, will next meet Spaniard Garbine Muguruza Blanco, who swept past Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-0.
“Last time, it was very tough, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy today,” said Kerber, who needed three sets to beat Wickmayer in their previous meeting. “At 1-4, my coach came on court and told me to remember the game plan. He said: ‘Just focus on your game, believe in yourself,’ and I did it. I’m just happy to be in the next round.”
The German world No. 6 broke Wickmayer three times to breeze through the opening set in 31 minutes, but then lost her way and failed to hold in her next three service games.
In all, there were eight breaks of serve in an erratic second set as the Belgian delivered a mix of crunching forehand winners with a series of unforced errors.
After Kerber leveled at 6-6, she dominated the tiebreak and sealed her victory after 1 hour, 22 minutes with a forehand winner down the line that left Wickmayer stranded at the net.
“After my coach spoke to me, I was just playing point by point, and believing in my game,” said Kerber, who was forced to withdraw from a Fed Cup match against France last month due to a back injury. “His advice certainly helped. Before the tournament, I was not sure how my back will feel after matches. Now, my confidence is of course back and I feel good. I’m looking forward to play tomorrow again.”
In other matches, seventh seed Samantha Stosur of Australia overcame China’s Peng Shuai 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, and eighth-seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki crushed Russian Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-1.
In the women’s doubles, Taiwan’s Chan Hao-ching and Janette Husarova of Slovakia defeated Marina Erakovic of New Zealand, and Heather Watson of Britain 4-6, 6-3, 10-5.
Additional reporting by Staff writer