The proverbial Group of Death will get going in earnest at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Juan Martin Del Potro–all in the same section of the draw–will be in action. So, too, will Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. And, yes, Kyrgios and Zverev are also in that section.
“Most of the guys you won’t even see, because they’ll eliminate each other,” Federer said about his rough draw. “The first message I got was Dudi Sela or Stephane Robert, and I was like, “okay, fine.’ Then I heard that Rafa was in my section; you’re like, ‘okay.’ Then you hear maybe Novak is in your section and you’re like, ‘okay, fine.’ It doesn’t matter. I know it matters for [the press]. I’ve gone through so many draws. I came to Indian Wells to play against those guys. It’s better for me to play them early.”
When asked if he had ever seen anything like this in a draw, Federer recalled playing Marat Safin in the 2004 Dubai fist round shortly after beating Safin in the Australian Open final.
“That was tough–tougher than either Dudi Sela or Stephane Robert,” Federer reflected.
Speaking of Australian Open finals, the 35-year-old Swiss recently played an epic one against Nadal and prevailed in five sets after trailing 3-1 in the fifth. That, of course, gave Federer his 18th career Grand Slam title.
“I still feel like it was just yesterday. I still feel like I’m on cloud nine…. The surprise was so huge for me that I went all the way. I still can’t believe it.”
If Federer is still on cloud nine, then a surprising loss to Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai failed to bring the former world No. 1 back down to Earth. Federer led by a set and had three match points for a straight-set victory, surged to a 5-2 advantage in the third after blowing the chances in the second, and also led 5-1 in the final-set tiebreaker after failing to serve out the match. Donskoy fought back on every occasion and won the last six points of the contest to triumph 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5).
A loss to Robert on Sunday would arguably be even more surprising–and it would also derail a potential Federer-Nadal rematch in the fourth round.
Djokovic and Del Potro, meanwhile, will collide on Tuesday if they each win their opening match.