Indian Wells 2019: Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori head to Round 3; Djokovic scores 50
Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori are among the players through to the third round of the Indian Wells Masters
Eighteen tournaments played and won, 18 different champions crowned. Such has been 2019 on the men’s tennis main tour. Will the 19th tournament, one of the biggest of the year—the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells—produce the first repeat winner of the season?
So far, the candidates have been dropping like flies; some, such as Kevin Anderson and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, never began at all. And already by the third round, more candidates, many of them seeds, had fallen by the wayside: Roberto Bautista Agut, Marco Cecchinato, Alex de Minaur, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Nick Kyrgios—all beaten.
Would a packed Sunday, when the remaining 15 seeds opened their campaigns, keep more names in frame, the likes of Dubai champion Roger Federer and Brisbane champion Kei Nishikori, or Sofia winner Daniil Medvedev and the unexpected Rio champion, qualifier Radu Albot?
No6 seed Nishikori went first, in a tricky opener against Adrian Mannarino. The Japanese star had taken strides back to the top of the game during the last 12 months, as he made his return from a long absence from wrist injury.
He missed Indian Wells last year, and slipped to 33 in the ranks, but three finals last year, among them the Monte Carlo Masters, turned into gold in Brisbane this year. And a quarter-final in Australia plus the semis in Rotterdam saw him regain his career-high top-five ranking.
His physical shape and confidence seemed back at their best, but they would need to be: The Frenchman, now age 30 and ranked just 52, was at 22 just a year back, and owned the kind of unpredictable touch and variety to upset the most focused opposition.
Mannarino’s spin, touch, changes in direction and angle, all add up to a difficult mix, but he has been inconsistent to a fault over the years. Not so here, however.
The two men exchanged breaks in the first set, but Nishikori got a second to earn the opener, 6-4.
In the second set, Mannarino’s level rose, his serve out-performed Nishikori’s, and he got the timely break in the ninth game. He served it out, via a couple of edgy deuces, 6-4. The Japanese man had made more winners, but he had made many more errors, too. Mannarino had made only five—and he was feeling his drop-shots and sliced returns nicely.
He even got the first break in the decider, only to lapse, and give the break back. Nishikori battled to a hold in the seventh game, and had to battle even harder in the ninth, fending off break point and several more deuces.
But the Frenchman finally got what looked to be the decisive breakthrough in the 11th game, breaking to love: He would serve for the match.
Not so fast, Nishikori’s record in deciding sets said: At the third attempt, he broke back courtesy of a double fault. It would take a tie-break, and there again, Nishikori had one of the best records in tennis for closing out matches. Sure enough, he closed it out 7-6(4) after two and a half hours of highly entertaining tennis.
That win took Nishikori to 13-3 for the season, and kept him in with that chance to score a second title of the year. However, the next match will be a bigger test still, against either another Frenchman, Lucas Pouille, or the fast rising 23-year-old Hubert Hurkacz, who is at a career-high No67 and owns a win over Nishikori in Dubai less than a fortnight ago.
Nishikori shares his quarter with a high-quality line-up that includes Marin Cilic, but also happens to contain another of those 2019 champions, Federer.
The Swiss began the year with a bang at the Hopman Cup, though the ITF tournament counts as nought in the ATP rankings. But his failure to defend his title at the Australian Open did have an impact: He dropped to No7 ahead of the Dubai Championships.
Since then, however, the 37-year-old Swiss had turned things around; an eighth Dubai title marked his 100th career title, and it was achieved with some dazzling, attacking tennis.
He arrived in Indian Wells, then, in upbeat mood and good shape. He had got some points on the board, enough to grab the No4 seeding, but at the same time he lost even more, for he was runner-up in California last year, which he played as the world No1.
So the five-time champion, with more than 60 match-wins in Indian Wells to his name, needed to hit the ground running against his first opponent, Peter Gojowczyk.
Federer beat the German in their only previous meeting, Cincinnati last year, and had practised long and hard to master the drier, slower conditions and higher bounce in Indian Wells compared last week’s Dubai. And he did hit the ground running, holding to love, and pressing Gojowczyk long and hard in the second game—four deuces, four break points. The German double faulted to concede the break.
Federer broke in the fourth game, too, a flashing white dart around the indigo court, and held for 5-0. He would allow Gojowczyk just one game, 6-1, after 24 minutes. Federer had made 12 winners to the German’s three, just seven errors, and made 11/11 first serves.
Things changed in the second set, however. Gojowczyk improved his serving level, while Federer’s serving percentage slipped. And when the German’s flat, fast serve hit the mark, it stopped any Swiss inroads to the front of the court.
Federer had an early chance—four break points in the opening eight-minute game—but the German proved resilient, and took advantage of Federer’s wavering serve in the second game. He could not convert a break point, but he did so in the fourth game, as the Swiss twice double faulted: 1-3.
The advantage did not last long: Federer got the break back by hustling the German serve, but again missed a chance to break in the seventh game as Gojowczyk thumped down two aces to hold, and then rushed the Swiss in the next with huge pace off the ground, 0-40. The German had another chance, too, but the Swiss survived, and they edged towards tie-break territory—only for Gojowczyk to double fault on break point in the 11th game. And Federer served out what had, in the end, been a stern test, 7-5.
Such is the record of Federer that he began Indian Wells as one of the favourites: He has made four consecutive finals, and won his fifth title in 2017. But up next could be a man to halt those ambitions, the man Federer beat in that final two years ago, Stan Wawrinka. His friend and compatriot would play No29 seed Marton Fucsovics to determine Federer’s next opponent, but such had been the recent and improving form of Wawrinka that many anticipated the big Swiss showdown.
Also in this quarter, Kyle Edmund raced into the third round with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Nicolas Jarry, while in the other bottom-half quarter, Andrey Rublev beat Robin Haase, and fellow Russian Medvedev kept his hopes of title No2 alive by beating Mackenzie McDonald. He will next play Filip Krajinovic, who put out No20 seed David Goffin in impressive style, 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic: 50th win at Indian Wells—his highest tally at any Masters
World No1 Novak Djokovic opened his account in Indian Wells with his 50th match-win, his most wins in any Masters. That record is built on repeated successes at the tournament in the Californian oasis—five titles and counting.
He beat Bjorn Fratangelo, 7-6(5), 6-2, to extend his record in 2019 to 11-1, after winning the Australian Open at the start of the year.
The 31-year-old Djokovic is not only on course to be the first multiple titlist this year but he could also equal Rafael Nadal’s 33 Masters tally, and take a record sixth Indian Wells title after sharing the record with Federer on five.
He will next face Philipp Kohlschreiber, who beat No31 seed Nick Kyrgios, 6-4, 6-4. Entering this week, the German had not won a match, outside of Davis Cup, since the first round of the Australian Open, but he has dropped only 12 games en route to the third round. However, Djokovic has beaten the German in all but one of their nine meetings, and that was back in 2009.