1. OLE, OLE, OLE, OLE!: Fernando Verdasco is a paltry 3-15 lifetime against Rafael Nadal, but his clashes with his fellow Spaniard/longtime Davis Cup teammate have often been the stuff of legend. Take their lefty vs. lefty semifinal at the 2009 Australian Open, at five hours and 14 minutes the longest match in tournament history. Rafa would survive 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4 to reach the final. Verdasco would avenge that loss last year on the very same Rod Laver Arena court, stunning his countryman in yet another five-setter 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 in four hours and 41 minutes in the opening round. They’ve met twice before here at the BNP Paribas Open (2007, 2016), with Nadal claiming both matches in straight sets. This is a true tennis lover’s delight.
2. FUTURAMA: "I'm looking forward to it," said Nick Kyrgios of his much-hyped matchup with fellow young gun Sascha Zverev, in what will be their first head-to-head encounter on the ATP World Tour. "We’ve been close mates for a long time. 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. 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." Zverev, too, is looking forward to the occasion: "I feel very excited because I think we’re the two young guys who are talked about a lot, with Dominic [Thiem]. So it would be a very exciting match. I think I’ve played well this year; he’s played well this year. So, we’ll see." Expect a power display from two electric performers who play without fear, who are capable of smacking winners from all corners of the court. Buckle up.
3. SVITO'S STREAK: Elina Svitolina -- at No. 10 the highest ranked Ukrainian woman in the history of the sport -- is unstoppable these days. She comes into her Round-of-16 matchup with No. 7th-ranked Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza riding a 16-match win streak, a run that includes titles in Taipei City and Dubai. Muguruza, on the other hand, has been seeking a return to the form that brought her the 2016 Roland Garros title. Facing all-but-unknown 17-year-old California Kalya Day in the third round, she labored in eking out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 win. If she has designs on her first title of the year, she’ll have to step it up against Svitolina, the only player to defeat both world No. 1s (Serena Williams, Angelique Kerber) last year. They’re an even .500 (2-2) in career head-to-heads, Svitolina having claimed the last two decisions in 2016.
4.: VENUS (STILL) RISING: The last time we saw Shuai Peng she was sprawled on the Ashe Stadium cement; the dog-days-of-summer humidity of Queens, N.Y., having sapped every last bit of energy along with any hopes of advancing to the 2014 US Open final. Or so it feels. She would return to the WTA Tour, though injuries would push her outside of the Top 100. But she’s back in the Top 50 and back on the courts at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where on Monday she shocked No. 6-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-4 to set up a Round-of-16 match with the resurgent American Venus Williams. Williams herself scored an impressive 6-4, 6-2 win over Czech Lucie Safarova and is laser-focused. The seven-time Slam champ has claimed two of their three previous meetings, though Peng prevailed the last time they faced each other in Beijing in 2016.
5. NOLE VS. DELPO XVII: We’ve been licking our chops at the very thought of this matchup ever since the so-called Group of Death draw was first unveiled at the BNP Paribas Open. It seems there’s always so much hanging in the balance when Novak Djokovic takes the court against Juan Martin Del Potro. Of their 16 previous encounters, an astounding 14 have come on the Masters/Grand Slam/Davis Cup stages. Though the Serb Djokovic holds a commanding 12-4 head-to-head advantage, Del Potro has sure won some big matches. Returning from his latest wrist surgery in last year, the resurgent Argentinean famously stopped the then-No. 1 7-6(4), 7-6(2) in the first round at the Olympics, leaving a crushed Djokovic to exit the court in tears. But perhaps their most epic tussle came in the Wimbledon semis in 2013, a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3 marathon claimed by Nole. Their lone clash in Indian Wells went the distance, too, DelPo moving into the 2013 final via a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win. The ever-popular gentle giant Del Potro, aka "The Tower of Tandill" (think 6-foot-6, 214 pounds), will need more than fan support and his explosive forehand to pull off an upset, but as he showed in Rio, he’s more than capable of doing just that.