Rafael Nadal will be going up against a second consecutive Spaniard when he faces Fernando Verdasco on Sunday in Miami. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils are also aiming for a place in the fourth round.
(29) Fernando Verdasco vs. (2) Rafael Nadal
Nadal and Verdasco will be squaring off for the 15th time in their careers at the ATP level when the two Spaniards clash in round three of the Miami Open on Sunday. The head-to-head series is being dominated 13-1 by Nadal, who has taken all six of their hard-court encounters. They most famously battled each other in the semifinals of the 2009 Australian Open, with Nadal surviving 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4. A more infamous meeting came two seasons later in Cincinnati, where Nadal scraped out a 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 7-6(9) victory. Verdasco, though, won their most recent tilt 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on the clay courts of Madrid in 2012.
Nadal’s physical problems are reasons why they have not met in almost three years, but another factor is that Verdasco has not been advancing far enough in draws. The world No. 34 showed signs of being one and one in Miami, but he pulled out a rain-delayed match 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 over James Duckworth on Saturday. Nadal beat the bad weather on Friday, getting in his contest with Nicolas Almagro by cruising 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 29 minutes. The No. 2 seed generally underwhelms in Miami and Verdasco has not been playing poorly this spring, so it should not be entirely one-way traffic–nor will it be a thriller like Down Under in ’09.
Pick: Nadal in 2 losing more than 8-10 games
(17) Gael Monfils vs. (11) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Another showdown between compatriots will see Tsonga and Monfils go head-to-head for the sixth time in their careers at the ATP level. Tsonga leads the series 4-1 and all five of their previous collisions have come on hard courts. After losing their first two encounters, Monfils got some revenge in 2010 (Montpellier) only to down twice in a row again in 2012 (Doha) and 2013 (Tokyo).
A highly-anticipated matchup between two of the tour’s most exciting players was almost denied on Saturday. Both Frenchmen required three sets; Tsonga to get past Tim Smyczek and Monfils to outlast Filip Krajinovic (in a third-set tiebreaker). Both entertainers were up and down, although Tsonga was arguably the more impressive given that he was playing for the first time all season due to injury. The will to win should not be underestimated in this one and it is likely Tsonga who holds an edge in that department. Ranked 13th in the world but set to drop precipitously, Tsonga will be desperate for a victory–despite facing his good friend and Miami doubles partner.
Pick: Tsonga in 3