Compatriots Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka certainly promised a lively, tight contest, even if not an upset.
Friends they may be, and partners in some of their most memorable career moments without a doubt. After all, 37-year-old Federer and 33-year-old Wawrinka have been around the block a few times since the latter turned pro in 2002, a year after the elder Swiss won his first title.
They have won Olympic gold together, and they have won the Davis Cup together. And separately they have won 20 and three Majors respectively, been No1 and No3 respectively. They have been, in short, a powerhouse pair for many years for a country with population that is less than that of Greater London.
But make no mistake: These two have been fierce rivals too, from the first meeting in Rotterdam 14 years ago until their intense battle in the quarters of the Cincinnati Masters last year—played after both men had played their third-round matches earlier the same day.
It was a clash both will remember well: Federer had come back from knee surgery and a ranking of 17 in 2017 to reclaim the No1 ranking; Wawrinka was showing the first signs of his old form after undergoing his own knee surgery the year after Federer.
And they would both have reason to recall their previous match, too: It was the Indian Wells final, two years ago, and a victory by Federer that reduced Wawrinka to both tears and laughter.
Now, back on the same stage, they were about to play one another for the 25th time—one of Federer’s most played opponents after Nadal and Djokovic, and up there in sheer numbers with Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Murray.
Federer certainly had the edge thus far, 21-3, but Cincinnati last year, and the Australian Open in 2017—a five-set semi-final thriller—were evidence of a closer rivalry than those numbers suggested. Few who saw their three matches in 2014 could doubt that: Wawrinka won a close three-setter in Monte-Carlo; Federer edged a four-setter at Wimbledon; and it all came down to a thriller of a tie-break at the ATP Finals.
Each arrived at this latest encounter in good form: Federer won in Dubai, Wawrinka made the final in Rotterdam, and produced consistent and powerful tennis through three-set wins over Dan Evans and No29 seed Marton Fucsovics.
But in the event, perhaps those long matches, on top of an intense quarter-final against Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco, weighed a little heavy in the Wawrinka legs. For Federer would keep his opponent for less than an hour on Centre Court, as his service clicked into place, his net-work was swift and ruthless, and he made one decisive break in each set.
Federer got the first break to love for a 4-2 lead as Wawrinka’s level dipped, and he went on to serve it out, 6-3, in textbook serve and volley style.
He continued to break Wawrinka’s rhythm with drop shots, chip and charge plays, angles—yes, ruthless was the right word. He broke early, and with not a hole in his serving—14-14 first serves and just three points dropped altogether in the second set—Federer had only to serve things out for a 6-4, 59-minute win.
The conditions in Indian Wells may be slow, the temperatures low, and the winds unpredictable, but five-time champion Federer marches on, as he has done so often in the desert. He is now 64-12 in Indian Wells, and has reached the final in his last four appearances. If he is to advance further this year, he will have to beat No22 Kyle Edmund in their first match.
The Briton beat Delray Beach champion, qualifier Radu Albot, 6-3, 6-3, after winning the ATP Challenger event in Indian Wells last week.
Federer knows Edmund from their time at the Laver Cup in Chicago last September, and looked forward to their first contest:
“I have never played him, and so that’s exciting, especially an established player. I think he’s a really nice guy. Trains hard. He’s got good balance… And the forehand really goes. He’s got some major power there. He can also serve big in the first serve.”
The winner will then have to face either Shapovalov or Hubert Hurkacz in the quarters, after each young player upset the odds.
The exciting teenager Shapovalov has been winning fans by the bucket-load with his explosive shot-making and charming personality. Even so, the tennis he produced to beat No10 seed Cilic had the Indian Wells crowd roaring their approval.
In their only previous meeting, in Basel last autumn, Cilic beat the young Canadian with relative ease, but Shapovalov was clearly feeling very comfortable and confident this time around, and took just an hour and a quarter to down Cilic, 6-4, 6-2, dropping just three points on his first serve in the process.
He plays fast, and his speed around the court and the hard-to-read style of his one-handed backhand, caught Cilic out too many times, and the Croat’s errors began to mount. So even serving at 65 percent in the second set, Cilic was broken twice, and the young Canadian seized the day.
Shapovalov will now face the tall 22-year-old unseeded Pole Hurkacz, who played with the confidence of a man who had already scored a win over his top-10 opponent, Kei Nishikori. Hurkacz beat the top seed in Dubai to reach the quarters, where he only just lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Already with a win over No 28 seed Lucas Pouille in the bank, he scored his second win over Nishikori, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, hitting 10 aces in their two-hour match. Last year, the Pole was ranked 212 and had not won a main-tour match. Now, he is into the fourth round of a Masters for the first time.
However, there was a bigger upset in store, as Djokovic prepared to take to court for the second time after rain halted his match against the veteran German Kohlschreiber on Monday night.
And straight away, the No1 seed looked below par, lacked the zip and sharpness around the court and clean, accurate ball-striking that is so devastating for his opponents.
The German had beaten the Serb only once before, a full decade ago, but playing here just outside the seedings, Kohlschreiber was in top-notch, fluent form—as his win over Kyrgios had proved. One break in the first set sealed it, 6-4, and earned a smashed racket from the Serb.
And the second set summed up the problems Djokovic was facing, an immediate break to love. Kohlschreiber, an intelligent tactician and master of the angled winner, went on to break again for 5-2 when Djokovic double faulted. But could the German maintain his nerve to serve it out? Initially, he wavered and Djokovic broke, then held to love. But Kohlschreiber regained his nerve and served out a famous win, 6-4, his first over a reigning No1 in 12 attempts.
No wonder he admitted:
“It’s a very special win today. I had a great strategy to play against him. I had two good wins, so everything came together… Unfortunately, the tournament is not over. I have to get back tomorrow with a great mind-set. Today I want to take the moment, celebrate with my coach… I know it’s a very special victory today.”
He next takes on the in-form No18 seed Gael Monfils, winner in Rotterdam and on a 14-3 run in 2019.
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge