The loaded bottom quarter of the Indian Wells draw is close to being sorted out, and it will be won by either Roger Federer or Nick Kyrgios on Friday. Kei Nishikori and Jack Sock are also trying to snag a spot in the semifinals.
(9) Roger Federer vs. (15) Nick Kyrgios
Kyrgios is a combined 4-1 lifetime against Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal. He will get another shot at one of those all-time greats when he faces Federer for a second time during quarterfinal action at the BNP Paribas Open on Friday. Kyrgios won their only previous showdown 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-6(12) on the clay courts of Madrid in 2015. The 21-year-old Australian has eliminated any such drama with Djokovic this month, twice taking out the second-ranked Serb in straight sets–first in Acapulco and again via a 6-4, 7-6(3) decision on Wednesday in Indian Wells. Kyrgios, who preceded that victory with routine defeats of Horacio Zeballos and Alexander Zverev, is 10-3 this season with semifinal showings in Marseille and Acapulco.
Federer has been just about perfect in 2017, and he might be perfect if not for a shocking collapse against Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai. The 35-year-old’s 11-1 record includes his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and straight-set wins in the California desert over Stephane Robert, Steve Johnson, and Rafael Nadal. Federer, who needed five sets to outlast Nadal in an epic final in Melbourne, crushed his rival 6-2, 6-3 in just one hour and eight minutes on Wednesday. The world No. 10 is playing ultra-aggressive tennis and striking his backhand better than ever, so Kyrgios will have to deliver an other-worldly serving performance–better than against Djokovic–in order to avoid baseline rallies.
Pick: Federer in 3
(17) Jack Sock vs. (4) Kei Nishikori
Nishikori and Sock will be squaring off for the third time in their careers on Friday. The head-to-head series is tied up at one win apiece, with Nishikori having cruised 7-5, 6-2 at the 2013 Washington, D.C. event before Sock scored a 7-6(5), 6-4 victory at the 2014 Shanghai Masters.
In typical Nishikori fashion, the world No. 5 has quietly gone about his business in Indian Wells while destroying everything in his path. He has not dropped a set–and has not even come close to dropping a set–in routs of Dan Evans, Gilles Muller, and Donald Young. Sock, whose previous best performance at this event was a fourth-round finish in 2015, has done extremely well to surpass that accomplishment. The 18th-ranked American is through to the last eight thanks to a trio of wins–all from a set down–at the expense of Henri Laaksonen, Grigor Dimitrov, and Malek Jaziri. He even saved four match points against Dimitrov. Sock, who may be fatigued, will not be able to get away with another slow start against an opponent of Nishikori’s caliber.
Pick: Nishikori in 2