Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are already just one round away from another installment of their rivalry. Standing in the way of that showdown on Tuesday at the Indian Wells Masters are Fernando Verdasco and Steve Johnson, respectively.
(5) Rafael Nadal vs. (26) Fernando Verdasco
Nadal and Verdasco will be squaring off for the 19th time in their careers when they meet in round three of the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday. The head-to-head series stands at 15-3 in favor of Nadal, who avenged a 2016 first-round Australian Open loss by beating Verdasco 6-0, 7-6(9) at the same stage of this same Indian Wells event last season. As bad as the 15-3 deficit looks for Verdasco, the less heralded Spaniard is actually 3-2 in his last five matchups with Nadal dating back to the 2012 Madrid Masters.
This will be Nadal’s second consecutive all-lefty showdown, as he opened in the desert this past Sunday by defeating Guido Pella 6-3, 6-2. The world No. 6 is 13-3 this year with runner-up finishes at the Australian Open and in Acapulco. Speaking of runner-up finishes, Verdasco made a recent run to the Dubai title match–upsetting Roberto Bautista Agut and Gael Monfils in the process–before falling to Andy Murray. This fortnight’s 26th seed kicked off his Indian Wells campaign with a 7-6(5), 6-1 second-round defeat of Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Nadal’s three losses in 2017 have come at the hands of Milos Raonic, Roger Federer, and Sam Querrey–opponents who, when playing well, can take the match out of Nadal’s hands. Verdasco may have a huge forehand, but he cannot dictate play like the aforementioned trio.
Pick: Nadal in 2 losing 8 games or fewer
(24) Steve Johnson vs. (9) Roger Federer
Coming off a wild loss to Evgeny Donskoy in the Dubai second round, Federer cancelled a practice session in advance of his opening match on Sunday–thus setting off plenty of alarm bells. It turned out to be a whole lot of nothing, however, as the 35-year-old Swiss hammered Stephane Robert 6-2, 6-1 in a mere 51 minutes. Federer’s 9-1 record this season is, of course, highlighted by his 18th career Grand Slam title Down Under.
Up next for the world No. 10 on Tuesday is a second-ever encounter with Johnson. Their only previous tilt came last summer at Wimbledon, where Federer cruised 6-2, 6-3, 7-5. Johnson almost failed to get another shot at the former world No. 1, but he managed to hold off Kevin Anderson 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4) during second-round action on Sunday. The 27th-ranked American is a solid 11-5 in 2017 and coming off consecutive quarterfinal appearances in Memphis, Delray Beach, and Acapulco. Johnson will have a better chance in these conditions than he did on grass, but Federer should once again be able to dictate rallies and expose his opponent’s relatively weak backhand.
Pick: Federer in 2 losing 8 games or fewer