Is there a better rivalry in tennis than Federer vs. Nadal? Not since Sampras vs. Agassi have tennis fans embraced such a study in contrasts. A combined 32 Slam singles title between them, they’re bona fide living legends. It’s a shame that one of them won’t be around come the quarterfinals, but that’s the nature of a 'Group of Death' draw like theirs. Somebody’s gotta pack his bags.
Their 36th career head-to-head comes only two months after their epic five-set clash in the final of the Australian Open, where Federer claimed his record 18th Grand Slam title. The Swiss is well aware that his Spanish foe will be seeking revenge at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where they’ve split their previous two matches (2012, 2013).
“He's a player with a lot of possibilities,” says Federer of his fourth-round opponent. “He can play really deep in the court and really in the court, too, now. He's really become a player that can do both. We don't have that many guys on the tour that can actually do that. He reads the game really well going forward. He closes the net down very well.”
A spot in the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals will be on the line when reigning Roland Garros champ Garbine Muguruza of Spain and Czech powerballer Karolina Pliskova take to the Stadium 1 cement on Day 10. Pliskova, the World No. 3 and 2016 US Open runner-up, has won five of their six previous matches, including a tough 6-2, 6-7(7), 7-5 decision last year at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
This one may come down to Muguruza’s return game, and how well she handles her opponent’s best-in-the-business serve. After all, Pliskova led the way in aces last year, with 530 in 61 matches. That’s more than 200 ahead of Slam Queen Serena Williams.
"I think it's one of the toughest matches I can have now," said Muguruza. "I think she's playing very good. She has been very consistent, and I have been watching her. She has a very aggressive serve, so I'm just going to go out there and try to do my game, try to concentrate. I cannot do more than give it all there."
They’ve known each other for years. In fact, Donald Young’s first Futures title came on the doubles court alongside Kei Nishikori a decade ago. Young went on to claim his first Futures singles title, too, topping none other than Nishikori in the final. At tour level, Nishikori has returned the favor and then some. He holds a spotless 4-0 advantage, including a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win in Tokyo last year.
The Japanese superstar -- the highest-ranked Asian singles player of all time — has become a Top-5 force since reaching the US Open final in 2014 (l. to Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-3) and comes into the match a clear favorite. But his American foe has been playing some inspired ball of late, having scalped No. 14-seeded Frenchman Lucas Pouille to force this Round-of-16 clash. He’s into the fourth round for only the second time in 34 Masters 1000 appearances, and would love nothing more than to pull off an upset to reach the quarterfinals.
STADIUM 1 BLOCKBUSTER
Nick Kyrgios got the better of Novak Djokovic just weeks ago in Acapulco, winning 7-6(9), 7-5. In fact, the controversial Canberran, 21, has now defeated Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in his career-first encounters with the Grand Slam legends, and now owns 11 victories over Top 10 players. So the fiery Aussie, No. 16 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, will carry plenty of confidence into his matchup with the No. 2-ranked Serb.
“He's an unbelievable athlete,” said Kyrgios. “He returns probably the greatest returns in the game. Probably the most all-around player we have. It's a tough match-up for me either way. Against Novak, he neutralizes my serve. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.”
DOUBLE THE PLEASURE
The Finnish-Aussie combo of Henri Kontinen and John Peers has become one of the most dangerous duos in the doubles game. First partnering in 2016, they captured titles in Paris, Hamburg, Munich, Brisbane and the ATP Finals, and kicked off 2017 by downing the Bryan brothers to claim the Australian Open. On Wednesday, Kontinen/Peers will shoot for a spot in the BNP Paribas Open semifinals as they take on power servers Sam Querrey of the U.S. and Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.