Two Swiss stars and two surprises make up the Indian Wells semifinal lineup on Saturday. Roger Federer is going up against Jack Sock, while Stan Wawrinka is facing first-time Masters 1000 semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
(17) Jack Sock vs. (9) Roger Federer
Federer and Sock will be squaring off for the third time in their careers and for the second time at the BNP Paribas Open when they battle for a spot in the title match on Saturday afternoon. Both of their previous encounters have gone Federer’s way; 6-3, 6-2 in the fourth round of this tournament in 2015 and 6-3, 6-4 later that season on the indoor hard courts of Basel. Sock’s 2015 Indian Wells run saw him win three straight matches from a set down, including one in a final-set tiebreaker. The 18th-ranked American has been up to similar tricks this time around: four consecutive three-set wins–including two after losing the first set–and one over Grigor Dimitrov in a third-set ‘breaker (he also beat Henri Laaksonen, Malek Jaziri, and Kei Nishikori).
If Sock is fatigued heading into this one, Federer is nothing of the sort. The 10th-ranked Swiss did not drop a set in defeats of Stephane Robert, Steve Johnson, and Rafael Nadal before getting a walkover from Nick Kyrgios on Friday. Federer is 11-1 this season and, of course, captured his 18th career major title at the Australian Open. A red-hot former world No. 1 combined with a weary opponent should result in something similar to what transpired between Federer and Sock two seasons ago in the desert.
Pick: Federer in 2
(21) Pablo Carreno Busta vs. (3) Stan Wawrinka
They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Carreno Busta has been both in Indian Wells. No. 1 seed Andy Murray vacated the top quarter of the draw in the second round and that semifinal spot was wide open thereafter. Vasek Pospisil, who upset Murray, promptly fell to Dusan Lajovic in the last 32 before Carreno Busta took care of Lajovic to reach the quarterfinals. The 23rd-ranked Spaniard preceded that victory with a win over Peter Gojowyczk, got a walkover from Robert Bautista Agut, and eventually saved two match points in a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(4) quarterfinal triumph over Pablo Cuevas on Thursday. Carreno Busta is now 15-6 this season with a runner-up finish on the clay courts of Rio de Janeiro.
Up next for the No. 21 seed on Saturday is a third career meeting with Wawrinka, who leads the head-to-head series 2-0. The third-seeded Swiss prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 at the 2013 Oeiras event and again on clay via a 6-3, 6-1 decision last year in Geneva. Wawrinka survived two consecutive third-set tiebreakers to earn his place in this matchup; he outlasted Yoshihito Nishioka 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) after the lucky loser twice failed to serve out the match, and he edged Dominic Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(2) on Thursday night. The world No. 3, who ousted Palo Lorenzi and Philipp Kohlschreiber in more routine fashion, is 11-3 this season with semifinal showings in Brisbane and Melbourne. Carreno Busta recently talked about his commitment to playing more aggressive tennis in 2017, but that is not something he will be able to do against an opponent who has an especially big advantage in the serve and backhand departments.
Pick: Wawrinka in 2