Nadal Moves To 18-0 With Latest Indian Wells Win

Rafael Nadal (photo: ATP Tour video)

INDIAN WELLS/WASHINGTON, March 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Wednesday’s order of play at the BNP Paribas Open featured all of the men’s fourth-round singles matches spread across three stadiums at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. There were plenty of great matchups for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

The day began with an entertaining and exciting pairing of two Top-30 stars, No. 20 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States against No. 29 Alex de Minaur of Australia. It should come as no surprise that the match went three sets – won by Fritz – and included a 31-shot rally during the final-set tie-break.

It also included a matchup of two Tour veterans in No. 23 seed John Isner of the United States and No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, and it featured No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal from Spain against No. 17 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States, with Nadal off to a surprising start to the 2022 season.

With the top three seeds – Daniil Medvedev (third-round loss), Novak Djokovic (withdrawal) and Alexander Zverev (second-round loss) – no longer in the mix, the World No. 4 Nadal, a three-time Indian Wells champion, has emerged as the one to beat.

As evening settled in, the first two women’s quarterfinal-round matches took place on Stadium 1 and both went according to form, with 2015 champion Simona Halep of Romania and the highest-remaining seeded player, No. 3 Iga Swiatek of Poland, advancing to the semifinals.

Nadal withstands Opelka in a double tie-break thriller

Rafael Nadal has long been known as the “King of Clay,” thanks to his longtime domination of winning tournaments such as Roland Garros – which he’s captured a record 13 times – but now it might be necessary to add a new moniker. At least this season, it would not be out of fashion to start calling him the “King of Hard Courts,” too. That’s because Nadal has won 18 straight hard-court matches and three titles to begin his 2022 season.

Wednesday afternoon on Stadium 1, in front of the largest crowd of the tournament at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, Nadal ran his win-loss record to 18-0 with a 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) victory over No. 17 seed Reilly Opelka in two hours and 11 minutes.

Nadal overcame the powerful World No. 17 Opelka through guile, patience and a heavy topspin forehand – and did so despite nursing a nagging foot injury, too. Because the Spaniard positioned himself well behind the baseline, he was able to put many of Opelka’s serves back into play and limited the gentle giant to just nine aces.

During the 54-minute first set, Nadal dropped just three points on his serve – none on his second serve – and limited Opelka to serving just three aces. He hit nine winners and made just three unforced errors, while the big-hitting American No. 1 managed just 16 winners and committed 19 unforced errors. Nadal outpointed Opelka 40-31.

Then, Nadal rallied from a break down and took his chances during a second tie-break. Although Opelka saved a couple of match points – the last one on an ace – Nadal prevailed on his third match point after Opelka hit a lunging forehand wide of the mark that capped a 14-shot rally and preserved Nadal’s winning streak.

During his on-court interview, Nadal gave props to Opelka. He said: “He is one of the toughest opponents on Tour. It is very tough to control his weapons with his serve and forehand. I think I played my best match of the tournament so far today. I am very pleased with how I was able to win the match, with two difficult tie-breaks. This victory means a lot to me.”

The victory was Nadal’s 401st in ATP Masters 1000 competition. “I think I played well,” he said. “It is difficult because you need to find the right balance. When you are playing points from the baseline you think you can’t miss because you won’t have a lot of opportunities. So, you need to find the balance to not allow him to come in and not taking big risks.”

On Thursday, Nadal will play 132nd-ranked wild card Nick Kyrgios of Australia in the quarterfinal round. Kyrgios, who has has saved 9 of 9 break points and held in 26 of 26 service games this week, advanced to his first ATP Tour quarterfinal since winning the 2019 Citi Open title in Washington and it’s his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal since 2017 at Cincinnati – and he did it without having to pick up a racquet on Wednesday. That’s because his fourth-round opponent, No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner withdrew due to an undisclosed illness.

“Nick is playing great,” Nadal said. “He is one of the toughest opponents on Tour. Everyone knows how good he is when he is motivated. It is going to be a good te set for me and good challenge. I am excited to be in the quarterfinals.”

Alcaraz en fuego, feeling it in the palm desert

No. 19 seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain is among the hottest players on the ATP Tour. The 18-year-old is the youngest player to break into the ATP Top 20 since 1993. With his comprehensive 7-5, 6-1 victory over Gaël Monfils of France, he’s 11-1 in 2022 and 16-1 dating back to his title run at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals and he’s advanced to his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

Against the No. 26 seed Monfils, the World No. 19 Alcaraz hit four aces, dropped just four points on his first serve, didn’t face any break points and outpointed Monfils 68-42.

During his on-court interview, Alcaraz was asked what he meant to him to reach his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal. “It means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s special to be in a quarterfinal of a Masters 1000. I’m proud of the level I am playing at this tournament. … I’ll be happy if I can keep [playing at] the level. Of course, you can improve every day, be better every day.”

Next, Alcaraz will face defending champion and No. 12 seed Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, who beat No. 43 Jenson Brooksby of the United States, 6-2, 6-4, to extend his record at Indian Wells to 9-2. It was his first match on Stadium 1 since winning last year’s title.

“It was really difficult. I love playing on this court, obviously,” Norrie said after his victory, which was his 11th in his last 12 matches and goes back to the start of his title run at Delray Beach last month. “Jenson’s so tricky and came out with a gameplan and managed to execute from the beginning and didn’t really miss too much. [I had] one slight lapse in concentration in the second set, but [I am] really enjoying my tennis and happy to sneak through another one.”

Fritz reaches third straight Masters 1000 quarterfinal

No. 20 seed Taylor Fritz reached his third consecutive ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal and second straight at Indian Wells – his home tournament – with his come-from-behind 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur.

Fritz began his string of good fortune at last year’s Indian Wells event in October, in which he reached the semifinals, then followed it with a quarterfinal run at the Rolex Paris Masters.

Against de Minaur, Fritz fired 14 aces and hit 29 winners to overcome his 49 unforced errors. De Minaur countered with 22 winners and 26 unforced errors. By the end of the two-hour and 23-minute fourth-round battle, only two points separated the two Top-30 stars, with Fritz ahead 107-105. The loss dropped de Minaur’s ATP Masters 1000 round of 16 win-loss record to 0-7.

“I’m really not a big fan of playing de Minaur,” Fritz admitted during his on-court interview following his win. “Under the circumstances, it was tough. I had [nearly] three hours on court playing someone who was playing really far back, spinning the ball – the ball was jumping – and now I come out on the court and he’s on the baseline hitting everything flat and low. The first set I couldn’t really time the ball. I made some adjustments. In the end, I knew what was working for me and I battled through it.”

Next, Fritz will play Miomir Kechmanovic of Serbia, who earned just the second Top 10 win of his career with his 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 upset of World No. 6 and sixth seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy on Stadium 2 that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours. The advanced Kecmanovic to his third tour-level quarterfinal this season.

The 61st-ranked Kecmanovic has been enjoying quite the run at Indian Wells with victories over qualifier Liam Broady of Great Britain, No. 24 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia and Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands. Kecmanovic wasn’t afraid to go head-to-head with Berrettini with a consistent and aggressive hitting attack, much of it done from inside the baseline to cut down the angle of Berrettini’s returns.

Although Berrettini finished with 14 aces and won 73 percent (54 of 74) of his first-serve points, Kecmanovic countered with a 76 percent (66 of 87) winning efficiency on his first serve and saved the only break point he faced. The Serbian outpointed Berrettini 110-91.

Dimitrov through to second Indian Wells quarterfinal

The Southern California palm desert seems to bring out good things in Grigor Dimitrov’s game. The 33rd-seeded Bulgarian, who took Novak Djokovic’s place on the bottom line of the men’s singles draw, defeated No. 23 seed John Isner, 6-3, 7-6 (6) for his first win against the 36-year-old American veteran since 2017. The victory lifted Dimitrov into his second career quarterfinal at Indian Wells and his 15th ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal.

The 30-year-old Dimitrov hit eight aces and won 80 percent (43 of 54) of his first-serve points, saved the only break point he faced from Isner and broke Isner in his only opportunity during the 94-minute match on Stadium 2. Dimitrov outpointed Isner 66-60.

Next, Dimitrov will play No 7 Andrey Rublev of Russia, who advanced with a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland for his 12th straight singles match victory. Rublev, who arrived at Indian Wells after winning back-to-back titles in Marseille and Dubai, hit 19 winners and 19 unforced errors compared to 29 winners and 35 unforced errors for Hurkacz. The Russian outpointed Hurkacz 80-67 during the one-hour and 39-minute match played on Stadium 3.

Halep, Swiatek set up semifinal showdown

With the women’s singles draw down to eight, the quarterfinal lineup features two past champions, 2015 titlist Simona Halep and defending champion Paula Badosa. It also includes four players who are chasing after their second title of 2022: Halep, Badosa, Iga Swiatek and Madison Keys.

Halep, seeded 24th, was in action first Wednesday afternoon against No. 79 Petra Martic – and it was all Halep, who needed just 53 minutes to win 6-1, 6-1. She outpointed the Croatian 55-21. It was the Romanian’s 60thcareer quarterfinal win – improved her head-to-head against Martic to 3-1 – and it’s the fourth time she’s advanced to the Indian Wells semifinals.

The 26th-ranked Halep has flown under the radar as many of the pre-tournament favorites have fallen in the earlier rounds. However, with a 15-3 win-loss record coupled with one hard-court tournament already, won in January at the Melbourne Summer Set 1, Halep is starting to look like a Top 10 player again. Her mental strength has been a steady ally during her run to the Indian Wells semifinal round.

“It’s been a a great match. I feel I played my best tennis so far this year,” Halep said in her on-court interview. “It makes me super happy. I knew it was going to be a tough match. Today, I just felt great. I’ve been on a mission. I wanted to focus on my tennis and I did it pretty well.”

Later, Swiatek, the highest-remaining seed at No. 3, took on No. 25 seed Keys from the United States and needed just 56 minutes to win 6-1, 6-0. The 20-year-old Polish star, who already owns one WTA 1000 title this season, at Doha, has now won nine straight matches and it was her WTA-leading 18th victory of the season. Swiatek been a problem solver as illustrated by three consecutive comeback victories earlier in the tournament before playing flawless Wednesday evening in beating Keys in straight sets.

Swiatek made the most of her opportunity against Keys and hit 10 winners to just eight unforced errors, converted five of seven break points and was not broken in her seven service games. She outpointed Keys, 56-25, and improved her career head-to-head against the 29th-ranked American to 2-0.

Looking back, Swiatek pointed to her Tuesday three-set victory over former No. 1 Angelique Kerber as a great learning experience. “Truth be told, I wasn’t really sure what my tactics should be, if I should be more aggressive or play more patient game,” she said. “But at the end I think I made the right decision in right time, in right moments of the match.

“I felt like she wanted to use her experience and kind of trick me. But I like that because it’s a new experience for me. You’re not going to get that from many players because not many players have been on tour for such a long time. I’m pretty proud of myself that I could win against such a smart player.”

Wednesday’s BNP Paribas Open results

Thursday’s BNP Paribas Open order of play

By the numbers

• Four American men reached the BNP Paribas Open fourth round – the most since five in 2004. Among them: Californians Jenson Brooksby and Taylor Fritz. Brooksby, 21, is bidding to become the youngest American men’s quarterfinalist at Indian Wells since 20-year-olds Robby Ginepri and Andy Roddick in 2003.

• Thirteen of Simona Halep’s 15 wins this season have been in straight sets, including her 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory against Petra Martic Wednesday.

“Quotable …”

“Skiing is just go one and a half minutes down the hill. If you make one mistake, the whole thing is over. In tennis, you can still make some mistakes but still win. This is why I chose tennis.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy, on why he chose a professional career in tennis instead of skiing.