Roger Federer’s straight-sets defeat of Steve Johnson at Indian Wells has set up a hugely-anticipated fourth-round encounter with Rafael Nadal.
Federer was forced to battle against the game American before progressing 7-6(3) 7-6(4) at Stadium 1 on Tuesday.
“I was actually quite happy I was able to protect my serve,” Federer said.
“I just thought Stevey served very well … In the second set, I think he was serving almost 90 per cent at one point. That’s why I changed my position on the return. I don’t know if you saw it, but I was trying to mix it up a bit.
“And important was going into the breaker with energy, with the right mindset, focusing on the serve, and making sure that I don’t play too many stupid stuff.”
The win ensured the 36th meeting between Federer and Nadal – Fedal XXXVI, as it’s being billed – and the Swiss said he was looking forward to the contest.
Having won their last two meetings in Basel 2015 and at Australian Open 2017, Federer will attempt to beat the Spaniard for the third time in a row – for the first time ever.
This is their earliest meeting at a tournament with a knock-out format since Miami in 2004.
“Very excited. I said it at the press conference in the beginning. That’s why I came here, play against guys like Rafa. Now we have it,” Federer said.
“I’m going to be excited now. Better be excited now. Otherwise I came for the wrong reasons.”
Earlier in the day, Nadal for the second straight year ousted Fernando Verdasco in the third round.
Nadal won a battle of the Spanish left-handed sluggers, triumphing 6-3 7-5 to take his place in the last 16.
“I think I played a solid match. I played a good match, no? Very aggressive with my serve, serving well, hitting good forehands, good backhands. Very happy. I think I played much better today than the first day. Yeah, it was a good win,” Nadal said.
Nadal and Verdasco are incredibly similar players – Nadal is quicker, Verdasco perhaps the more brutal forehand – yet what separated them was consistency.
Verdasco connected with many forehands that didn’t come back, but also sprayed plenty; Nadal broke in the seventh game of the opening set and ran away with it in 31 minutes.
When he broke in the third game of the second set, it looked as if he was headed for a routine victory.
Then he promptly lost eight points in a row and found himself down 3-2.
“I played two horrible games, terrible,” Nadal admitted admitted.
Yet the fifth seed, after gaining a break point in the ninth game, converted another in the 11th for a 6-5 lead.
He served out the match comfortably, closing with the flourish of a forehand winner.
“My goal was don’t let him play with his forehand from easy positions. And that’s what I tried,” Nadal said.
“I started well the match. Then talked a while to have the break, but finally I had in the right game, in the 4-3, and I closed well.
In other results, fourth seed Kei Nishikori advanced with a routine 6-2 6-2 win over Sydney champion Gilles Muller.
In the last 16 he’ll face Donald Young, who kept his magnificent Indian Wells run going by upsetting 14th seed Lucas Pouille 6-4 1-6 6-3.
This is the furthest Young has advanced in the Californian desert, after three times before reaching the third round (2008, 2011 and 2015).
Also moving through was Malek Jaziri, who beat wildcard Taylor Fritz in three sets.
Jaziri next meets Jack Sock, who recovered from 1-4 down in the final set to oust in-form Grigor Dimitrov 3-6 6-3 7-6(9).
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