Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios will be squaring off for the second time in their careers and for the second time this month when they battle for a place in the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals on Wednesday. Their only previous meeting just came in the Acapulco quarters, with Kyrgios pulling off a 7-6(9), 7-5 upset.
Djokovic managed to earn himself another shot at the 21-year-old Australian, and he did it the hard way. Indian Wells’ No. 2 seed and defending champion held off Kyle Edmund 6-4, 7-6(5) in his opener after trailing 5-3 in the second set. He then had to face Juan Martin Del Potro on Tuesday night as the proverbial “Group of Death” took center stage in a ridiculously lopsided draw. Djokovic dropped a set to his familiar foe but recovered to prevail 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.
The former world No. 1 said afterward that he played his best tennis of 2016 in the third set against Del Potro, and who can argue? Djokovic kicked off the season with a title on Doha despite not being in peak form and he lost early in both Melbourne (to Denis Istomin in the second round) and Acapulco (to Kyrgios).
“Novak, he’s an unbelievable athlete,” Kyrgios commented. “He returns probably the greatest returns in the game’ probably the most all-around player we have. It’s a tough matchup for me. Against Novak, he neutralizes my serve.”
Djokovic can neutralize Kyrgios’ serve, but he did nothing of the sort in Acapulco. So far no one has done it in the California desert, either. The world No. 16 booked his spot in the last 16 by taking out Horacio Zeballos 6-3, 6-4 and Alexander Zverev by the exact same scoreline. Neither opponent broke serve and Zverev failed to generate a single break point.
As such, Kyrgios was asked about having a fondness for this tournament.
“I don’t know about that, actually,” he responded. “I had some bad experiences here. First time here I tore a ligament in my foot. Last year I was sick. I lost early. This tournament hasn’t been very nice to me in the past.”
It may not be nice to him again on Wednesday. Although balls fly through the air in Indian Wells, the courts are slow. As a whole, conditions are slower than they were in Acapulco–which is bad news for Kyrgios when going up against Djokovic. Not only will the Serb be eager for revenge after what was clearly a disappointing loss to Kyrgios a few weeks ago, but both his level of play and his focus were also ramped up dramatically against Del Potro.
Pick: Djokovic in 2