Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will meet in the BNP Paribas Open fourth round after wins for both on Tuesday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The hotly anticipated clash was on the cards when the draw was made last week, placing them both in the 'group of death' in the bottom half of the draw. It will take place not before 5pm on Wednesday on Stadium 1.
"I'm very excited. That's why I came here, play against guys like Rafa. Now we have it," said Federer. "Australia helps me a little bit, but at the end of the day, I'm still in the comeback.
"I try to see it really as another opportunity to build upon something for the rest of the season. So regardless of Australia, winning or losing, I'm going to try to go out there and try to play free again. I think it's really important. I feel like tomorrow if I move well, I will definitely have a chance against Rafa."
It will be the 36th installment of one of tennis’ most celebrated rivalries, just a few weeks on from their five-set battle in the Australian Open final, which saw Federer return from a five-month injury layoff to capture his 18th Grand Slam championship.
The eagerly anticipated match is exciting everyone at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, including WTA star Garbine Muguruza. "You know what? I don't think anybody cares who wins anymore. It's just I want to see them play. It's so good to watch them play together at the same time on the court. I'm so fond of both of them. It's so good they have this match tomorrow."
Nadal was first to advance Tuesday, defeating Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-5. The 30-year-old Nadal claimed his 50th win at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as he defeated Verdasco in one hour and 29 minutes. The Mallorcan has won three of his 28 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns in the desert, lifting the trophy in 2007 (d. Djokovic), 2009 (d. Murray) and 2013 (d. del Potro).
"History says that this tournament works well for me," said Nadal. "I played a lot of semifinals here, winning three times, and played a final a lot of times in the semifinals. When that happens, that means that the tournament adjust well to your conditions."
Under a hot sun in the Coachella Valley, Nadal improved to a 16-3 mark against Verdasco in their first meeting since he beat the Madrid native at the same stage of the BNP Paribas Open 12 months ago.
Nadal broke Verdasco to love in the eighth game of the opener and drew blood in the early stages of the second set with a break in the third game. Verdasco rallied to level in the fourth game, but Nadal broke through decisively in the 11th game, with the pressure telling on Verdasco. Nadal closed it out with a hold to 15.
"I think I played a solid match," said Nadal. "I was very aggressive with my serve, serving well, hitting good forehands, good backhands. I think I played much better today than the first day. It was a good win. I played two horrible games, terrible. That's it. For the rest of the match, I think I played very well."
Federer had a closer contest with Steve Johnson, edging the American 7-6(3), 7-6(4) in a match where neither man was able to break serve. Federer was denied four break point opportunities, but took his chance in both tie-breaks to claim victory in one hour and 34 minutes, only surrendering six points behind his first serve in the match.
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The 35-year-old Federer is bidding to win the Indian Wells crown for the fifth time, following triumphs in 2004 (d. Henman), 2005 (d. Hewitt), 2006 (d. Blake) and 2012 (d. Isner). He also finished runner-up in 2014 and 2015 (l. to Djokovic both times).
"I just thought Stevie served very well," said Federer. "Had chances in the first set to maybe get into better rallies. And if I would have done better there, I could have broken earlier.
"In the second set, I think he was serving almost 90 per cent at one point. 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 much stupid stuff.
"I was very happy how I played because I thought he played a really good match."