Bottom quarter: Federer, Djokovic in fine form

Published by Matt Trollope

Roger Federer celebrates his 51-minute victory over Stephane Robert at the BNP Paribas Open; Getty Images
In the so-called “Group of Death” at Indian Wells, Federer, Djokovic, Kyrgios, del Potro, Nadal and Zverev all posted straight-sets victories to advance to round three.

On Sunday at Indian Wells, the vaunted bottom quarter of the ATP draw is all anybody is talking about. 

In action are the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, former major winner and crowd favourite Juan Martin del Potro, and rising stars Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev.

We’ll follow their progress in the Californian desert today as they attempt to set up the matches that fans are all waiting for.

20:30 – [9] Roger Federer d Stephane Robert 6-2 6-1

The Swiss champion produced a masterclass to swat aside the French veteran for the loss of just three games.

Federer’s 51-minute, 6-2 6-1 victory was as much about his own sharpness and relentlessness as it was about Robert’s inability to extend a rally beyond a few shots.

Although a huge crowd packed into Stadium 1 to catch the reigning Australian Open champ in action, he’d departed not long after most of them had taken their seats.

Federer advances to a third-round meeting with American No.24 seed Steve Johnson.

“Very happy. Knee (injury) is a thing of the past, which is great. I don’t even have to think or talk about it. So I thought the match went really well. Rocky start in the beginning, just finding the groove, finding the rhythm, seeing the ball,” Federer said.

“I’m very pleased how it went. And, yeah, moving on to the next round, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be different matchup, so I’ve got to adjust again.”

19:00 – [2] Novak Djokovic d Kyle Edmund 6-4 7-6(5)

It was a slightly patch yet generally impressive start for the three-time defending champion.

Djokovic, who hasn’t lost in the Californian desert since Juan Martin del Potro beat him in the 2013 semifinals, began strongly but was ultimately stretched by British youngster Kyle Edmund.

The Serb was clean and clinical in the opening set but soon found himself down 2-5 in the second against his increasingly confident opponent.

Yet he tightened the screws, erasing the deficit and proving steadier in the ensuing tiebreak.

“I think I played very well in the first set. Second set was obviously up and down. But credit to Kyle for playing some really aggressive tennis and taking it all out. He made a lot of winners in the beginning and midway through the second,” Djokovic said.

“There was not much wrong I did. I did miss some forehands. But other than that, it was a very solid match. Good, quality tennis, a good test. I’m just pleased with the overall performance.”

The victory sets up a third-round battle against the man who last claimed his scalp here.

“I don’t have the luxury of pacing myself. I’m playing del Potro now. I have to give it all. That’s what it takes to beat this guy … even though he is not ranked as high and he hasn’t played that many tournaments but definitely one of the best players in the world,” Djokovic said.

“He’s tough player to beat. He’s big guy, big serve, big forehand. Definitely not the draw that you like early in the tournament and that you wish for, but it is what it is.”

17:30 – [15] Nick Kyrgios d Horacio Zeballos 6-3 6-4

As the shadows crept across Stadium 4, Kyrgios wrapped up a straight-sets win over Zeballos – a player a decade his senior – in a quick-fire 71 minutes.

With his serve and forehand clicking, Kyrgios produced a clean stat-sheet of 25 winners to just 10 errors, a performance that included 10 aces and zero double faults.

He broke early in both the first and second sets and despite a wobble in the sixth game of the second – during which he faced two break points – he served his way out of trouble to set up a next-gen blockbuster with Alexander Zverev in the last 32.

“I’m looking forward to it. We have been obviously close mates for a long time. I played juniors with him. I played him once in juniors, and I thought he had a big game then. He’s obviously put it together. He’s had some great results, beaten some big names,” Kyrgios said.

“I know it’s going to be tough, especially on this surface. If he plays his aggressive game, it’s not going to be easy to get looks on his serve, and it’s the same for me.

“If I go out there and play my style of tennis and I lose, I won’t be surprised. But if I win, I won’t be surprised, as well.”

17:20 – [31] Juan Martin del Potro d Federico Delbonis 7-6(5) 6-3

This was a battle on Stadium 2 between two teammates who in December last year won both reverse singles rubbers against Croatia to deliver Argentina its first Davis Cup.

Today they were on opposing sides, and it was a struggle.

“It was really hot out there. But I mean, the weather conditions are the same for all the players, and you have to live with that. If you manage good that conditions, you can take a little difference. I did well today in the second set. We play with almost shadow of the court and was even better,” del Potro said.

Like Zverev earlier on Sunday, del Potro had trouble shrugging off his left-handed Argentinian opponent in the first set.

After he clinched the first-set tiebreak, the Tower from Tandil required a medical timeout for what appeared to be a nose bleed.

Yet it did not seem to trouble him in set two; one service break was all that was required to wrap up victory in one hour, 51 minutes.

Del Potro in the third round faces a likely meeting with No.2 seed Novak Djokovic; the pair met just last week in Acapulco.

“Has been a great year for me. Last season I had played even better than what I expected (following) my injuries. I’m looking forward to keep going up in the rankings this year, trying to get closer to the top guys,” he said.

“If I stay healthy and I can play the same level as last year, I think I will be close to that goal.”

14:20 – [5] Rafael Nadal d Guido Pella 6-3 6-2

The Spaniard walked on to a sparsely-populated Stadium 1. Midway through the first set, it was pretty well full.

Such is the pull of Rafa, who set about immediately dismantling fellow lefty Pella; an early break down in the first set, Nadal reeled off four straight games to build a 5-2 lead.

When Nadal in the first game of the second set, it looked like curtains for Pella. But then the fifth seed dumped a backhand volley into the net in the very next game to hand the break straight back.

Pella, however, struggled to hang with the 14-time major winner, who was covering the court nimbly and lashing his heavy forehand with his patented vicious topspin.

Nadal broke again in the fifth game and then a few games later brought up match point with a deft drop volley winner.

Pella missed a backhand on the ensuing point to hand Nadal victory in a brisk 81 minutes.

“Was a solid match, no? Was a match of the first round that I didn’t try to do amazing things. I tried to play solid. I tried to find the rhythm, and I think I did,” he said.

“For moments I played well; for moments I played a little bit less well. Important thing, I won, and I won in straight sets. I had some good feelings for a lot of moments.

“During the four events that I played (so far), I played at very high level. Very happy the way I started the season. Now here is another opportunity. I know I have a very tough draw, and let’s see. I don’t know. Verdasco or Herbert? Let’s see. Gonna be tough one.”

13:00 – [18] Alexander Zverev d Facundo Bagnis 7-6(10) 6-3

Opening play on Stadium 3 was the younger of the Zverev brothers, who had difficulty shrugging off a persistent Bagnis.

Bagnis went toe-to-toe with the rangy Zverev and games progressed on serve to a tiebreak.

Zverev, who’d shown signs of frustration during the first set, streaked to a 4-1 lead in the breaker but still couldn’t shake Bagnis, despite a magnificent backhand smash that drew an error and roars of approval from the crowd.

Yet eventually, after 67 minutes, the German nabbed the opening set, and then set about ramming home his advantage.

Zverev smacked an overhead for a winner in the sixth game to bring up break point and converted it for a 4-2 lead when Bagnis hooked a backhand wide.

Four games later, Zverev sealed his place in the third round.

He faces a possible battle with 15th seed Nick Kyrgios.

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