Indian Wells 2019: Federer, Nadal, Khachanov into last eight as fresh names make their mark
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are among the big names through to the Indian Wells quarter-finals
It has come around so quickly in Indian Wells: Three rounds played, and the 96 men reduced to the final 16. And all of them would be in action on middle Wednesday, along with two of the women’s singles quarter-finals and the two remaining women’s doubles quarters.
So it was a packed day and night boasting the highest quality contestants, and yet many of the big names, the expected names, were not involved. Of the 16 men battling for a quarter-final spot, only nine were seeds, and they did certainly not include all the big names.
Gone was five-time champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic, along with No3 seed Alexander Zverev, No6 seed Kei Nishikori, plus Nos9, 10, and 11, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Marin Cilic, and Borna Coric. Indeed of the top 16 seeds, just six had survived.
Seven men were not seeded at all, not in the top 32 in the world, and they boasted an age spread of more than two decades, from the 19-year-old Miomir Kechmanovic to the 40-year-old Ivo Karlovic.
There were, for balance, two very familiar names, the other two former champions in this huge, and hugely prestigious, Masters tournament: five-time champion Roger Federer and three-time champion Rafael Nadal, both in the bottom half of the draw. But among the unseeded men, there were more statistics than you could shake a stick at.
Lucky loser Kecmanovic, ranked 130, played the 74-ranked Yoshihito Nishioka, with each in pursuit of their first Masters quarter-final, as was Jan-Lennard Struff, ranked 55.
Filip Krajinovic, ranked 113, hoped to become the first qualifier to reach the Indian Wells quarters since 2003.
Expanding the view to include some of the seeds, Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic both faced unseeded Germans in Philipp Kohlschreiber and Jan-Lennard Struff respectively. Monfils, for his part, was one of only two remaining men among the 18 title-winners this year to still have a chance of winning a second title. No18 seeded Frenchman had made his best ever start to a season, 14-3, and that at the age of 32.
And the other man who could be the first to win multiple titles in 2019? The 37-year-old Federer, who was 10-1 for the season.
He, too, would be treading new ground—not in the tournament, where he had won five titles and stacked up 64 match-wins, but because he had never before played Briton Kyle Edmund.
As the Swiss said in his press conference the previous night, that was unusual territory considering that the 23-year-old Edmund had been around and inside the top 20 for well over a year, had reached the semis of the 2018 Australian Open, and won his first title from two finals last year.
Edmund, after some persistent knee problems at the start of the season, was also putting together a rising run of form: seven straight matches in Indian Wells via his title run to the Challenger event and then two more as the No22 seed in the Masters.
But in the early goings against Federer, he looked nervous, while the Swiss carried on where he had left off in a dazzling win over Stan Wawrinka. Two double faults from Edmund in the second game helped Federer to an immediate break, but then the Briton fired back with power and depth to draw errors and three break-back chances. The Swiss resisted after more than seven minutes, and then rarely looked back.
Federer broke again in the fourth game and aced to hold for 5-0 before Edmund got on the board. That seemed to spur the Briton on, but once more he could not take advantage of a break chance: Federer had the set, 6-1, in under half an hour, 13 winners to seven errors.
Edmund looked more confident and aggressive in the second set, but such was Federer’s own aggressive stance, and his resilience on the backhand, that he proved an impossible nut to crack. The Swiss chipped his backhand, opened the court, and slotted a forehand winner down the line to break, consolidating with a love hold.
Edmund began to off-load his big forehand, yet even there, Federer was prepared to take on the Briton with his own length-perfect forehand. It was, in the event, an Edmund backhand down the line that earned him another break chance, but the opening was slammed shut by the Swiss for 5-3.
The Briton saved his best for last, very nearly getting the necessary break back as Federer served for the match. Edmund slotted a bullet of ball past Federer at the net, then a forehand winner, but could not convert any of his three chances. Federer served it out, 6-4, in 63 minutes.
Now, the Swiss will face another ‘first’: a first encounter with the tall 22-year-old Pole, Hubert Hurkacz, another fast-improving young player heading into his first Masters quarter-final.
Hurkacz, who competed at the 2018 NextGen ATP Finals in Milan a few months ago, picked off the latest of a string of seeds, after Lucas Pouille and Kei Nishikori, to beat Shapovalov, 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3, in an impressively composed and mature style.
Meanwhile, in the top half of the draw, Kecmanovic did become the first lucky loser to reach the quarters courtesy of a retirement by Nishioka after one set.
However, Krajinovic was not about to get any free passes to the quarters: No2 seed Nadal continued his impressive form to beat the Serbian, 6-3, 6-4—the most games he has dropped in any match thus far in the tournament.
Nadal will next play No12 seed Karen Khachanov, who beat No8 seed John Isner, a former runner-up at Indian Wells, 6-4, 7-6(1).