Indian Wells 2017: Dan Evans falls to Kei Nishikori; Konta also beaten
Dan Evans and Johanna Konta are both beaten at Indian Wells, ending the British interest in the tournament
In truth, the No4 seed Kei Nishikori had taken a strange path from his fourth-round exit at the Australian Open to the first and biggest Masters tournament of 2017.
For a man who surely has title ambitions at this prestigious tournament, his detour via the clay of South American was a mysterious choice. Yes, he picked up final points at the ATP250 in Buenos Aires, but Indian Wells is altogether more lucrative in points, money and prestige.
That, though, was the choice of the Japanese star, though he made a first-round exit in Rio days later. He, even more than those coming from the different hard-court conditions of Acapulco and Dubai, would have significant adjustments to make at an event that had yet to draw the best from Nishikori’s profligate skills. Last year’s quarter-final was his best run, and he managed only two match-wins in his first five visits to the desert.
That was fine if he could ease himself into his early matches. But he took on Briton Daniel Evans, who was not only enjoying a career-high ranking of 41 on the back of a rising curve of form, but also liked to hurry the pace along. His opener against Dustin Brown took 53 minutes for the loss of just two games.
This would be his third meeting against Nishikori, and they had shared their previous matches, but Evans was a more confident player than in their Davis Cup rubber last year—and had also reached the fourth round in Australia after making the finals in Sydney, beating two top-10 players along the way. Indeed with just two and a half months played, Evans had already won more matches in 2017 than last year.
He started the first match of the day in the biggest tennis arena outside of Flushing Meadows with real confidence and attack, came to the net against Nishikori’s serve, and immediately broke to 15.
But the Japanese man, one of the nimblest on the tour, was soon all over Evans’ serve, especially his second serve, and broke straight back, then held for 2-1. Neither man is tall, so both depend on precision and kick on serve as much as pace, and Evans found enough to stave off deuce for 2-2, but already the conditions were brutal: over 40C at court level.
Each man hit great angles and varied the spin, and more than once found outright winners off returns of serve, but Evans came under huge pressure in the eighth game, fending off three break points before Nishikori clipped the baseline on the fourth to take the lead, 5-3. Evans did work a break-back point, but the smartness and accuracy of Nishikori’s shot-making held off the Briton, 6-3.
Nishikori had clearly put the clay behind him and was quickly making the most of the hot conditions to pull off fine angles and counter the slice and variety of Evans. He made two beautiful touch winners against the net-rushing Briton to break immediately, only to see Evans take a leaf out of his own book to fire a forehand past Nishikori on break point: 1-1.
It was nip and tuck for the next few games, with some wonderfully crafted rallies, but Nishikori began to focus more on the Evans’ backhand, opening the court to finish with winners. He finally got a break in ninth game to serve for the match: the pressure was on and the temperature still rising—now 46C at court level.
Nishikori finished the match with calm precision in a little short of an hour and half, 6-4, and will next play the altogether different power tennis of Gilles Muller.
The Japanese man is not only the top seed in his quarter but has a relatively comfortable draw to the fourth round, where he is likely to find Lucas Pouille, who will play either Donald Young or Sam Querrey in the third round.
The quarters promise Marin Cilic or Grigor Dimitrov, with the last man standing from the tough bottom quarter lined up as a semi-final opponent.
That ‘last man’ could be any one of the three previous Indian Wells champions. Rafael Nadal was first up in the baking cauldron of centre court against Guido Pella and secured a straigh-sets win. No2 seed Novak Djokovic then knocked out Kyle Edmund, before No9 seed Roger Federer overcame Stephane Robert.
Already into the third round from the Djokovic eighth is Alexander Zverev, who beat Facundo Bagnis, 7-6(10), 6-3, and he is lined up for either Nick Kyrgios or Horacio Zeballos in the third round.
After beating the only other British woman, Heather Watson, in the main draw in Indian Wells, the No11 seed Johanna Konta was beaten in the third round by No21 seed Caroline Garcia, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7(1).
The two women had played three times last year, with Konta winning both hard-court matches, but after failing to convert three break points in the decider, the Briton seemed to fade as the contest headed past two hours and into a tie-break.
The French woman will next play either Svetlana Kuznetsova or Roberta Vinci.