The proverbial “Group of Death” will heat up in earnest on Tuesday with two of the entire tournament’s most marquee third-round matchups. Novak Djokovic is going up against Juan Martin Del Potro, while Nick Kyrgios is facing Alexander Zverev.
(31) Juan Martin Del Potro vs. (2) Novak Djokovic
Djokovic and Del Potro will be doing battle for the 17th time in their careers and for the second time this season when they meet again in the BNP Paribas Open third round on Tuesday. The head-to-head series stands at 12-4 in favor of Djokovic, who just recently got the job done 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the Acapulco second round. Although the current world No. 2 is 4-1 in their last five encounters dating back to 2013 at Wimbledon, Del Potro’s lone win during this stretch was a big one–7-6(4), 7-6(2) in the Rio Olympics opening round.
Another all-too-early showdown is in the cards for the California desert, mainly because Del Potro–due to relative inactivity–does not yet have the top eight, top 16, or at least top 24 seeding that he deserves. The 35th-ranked Argentine, who skipped the Australian summer, is an abbreviated 5-2 this season following a 7-6(5), 6-3 victory over countryman Federico Delbonis on Sunday. Djokovic is looking to bounce back from disappointing losses in Melbourne (to Denis Istomin) and Acapulco (to Nick Kyrgios). The second-seeded Serb won his Indian Wells opener but was not overly impressive during a 6-4, 7-6(5) defeat of Kyle Edmund on Sunday. Conditions in Indian Wells should suit Del Potro perfectly and this is a real opportunity for him with Djokovic still just a bit out of sorts.
Pick: Del Potro in 3
(15) Nick Kyrgios vs. (18) Alexander Zverev
Friends and occasional doubles partners, Kyrgios and Zverev will see each other on opposite sides of the net in an intriguing third-round collision on Sunday. Zverev is back on the scene of one of 2016’s most memorable matches. During fourth-round action last year, the German served for an upset Rafael Nadal and had match point at 5-3, 40-30 in the third set only to net a sitting forehand volley. Nadal ended up taking the last four games to prevail 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5. Staring at another rough draw in Indian Wells, Zverev kicked off his fortnight with a 7-6(10), 6-3 victory over Facundo Bagnis on Sunday afternoon.
Kyrgios, who also took care of a left-handed Argentine in his opener (beat Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4), failed to build on his Acapulco upset of Djokovic as he promptly dropped his next match against Sam Querrey 3-6, 6-1, 7-5. Kyrgios is a decent 8-3 this year but one of his three defeats saw him blow a two-set lead of Andreas Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open. It is hard to say which Kyrgios will be on display whenever he takes the court, and a slightly more reliable Zverev should be eager to make amends for last season’s near-miss in the desert.
Pick: Zverev in 3