INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — With the exception of Rafael Nadal, the top men’s seeds have all been pushed at Indian Wells. Andy Murray took an early exit, while John Isner is the only American left playing on his home soil. Here’s a look at how the quarterfinals break down.
Novak Djokovic vs. Nicolas Almagro: Almagro got some sweet revenge over Tomas Berdych in the fourth round, beating him 6-4, 6-0, in a match that, unlike their Australian Open dust-up in January, actually ended with a handshake, awkward and forced as it was. Almagro’s never beaten Djokovic (in fact, he’s never beaten a top five player), with their most recent meeting at the 2011 Australian Open, where Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4, 6-0. Djokovic dropped his first set of the tournament on Wednesday to Pablo Andujar and he’ll need to play some defense against the offensive-minded Spaniard, but unless he’s been bitten by the stomach bug that’s been floating around this week, Djokovic should get through in straight sets.
Pick: Djokovic in two sets.
Gilles Simon vs. John Isner: The only time these two met, Isner needed to send his friend to the pop-up Nike store at the 2011 U.S. Open to buy more T-shirts because he was sweating through his kit so quickly. He ended up walking off court with an overflowing bag of soggy shirts and a hard-earned 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) win. It’s easy to understand why Simon was able to make Isner work so hard that day. He’s one of the best counterpunchers in the game. After a disappointing clay swing where he went 1-3, Simon has had a series of solid wins this week. He defeated Dudi Sela and Stanislas Wawrinka before rebounding from blowing three match points in the second set to Ryan Harrison to win 6-1 in the fourth round on Wednesday. This will come down to how well Isner can get his serve and forehand going through the court, which won’t be easy given this is scheduled as a night match when the courts get slower. I’m tapping Isner to come through but this is a 50-50 match.
Pick: Isner in three.
Rafael Nadal vs. David Nalbandian: I was in the stands as a fan three years ago when Rafael Nadal found a way to come back from 3-6, 3-5 down to beat Nalbandian 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-0, saving five match points in the process. The match ended after 2:00 am, with a good-sized crowd of enthusiastic and vocal fans being invited to come down and sit in the lower bowl of Stadium Court, a reward for sticking it out at that late hour. It was an electric atmosphere that saw some scintillating tennis from both men, which gives me hope for this match. Nadal hasn’t lost to Nalbandian since 2007, but a slim and trim Nalbandian, who received a wildcard into the tournament, has already taken out three seeds, beating Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saving match points against Tsonga. The extra day of rest should help keep Nalbandian’s legs fresh for their encounter, but it’s hard not to favor Nadal for the match. He and Isner are the only players into the quarterfinals who haven’t dropped a set.
Pick: Nadal in two.
Roger Federer vs. Juan Martin del Potro: When Del Potro looked at the draw he must have thrown his head to the sky and cried, “Ay dios mio!” This is his fourth meeting this year against Federer and though he’s made progress, he’s lost all three. His best chance could be here, where Federer’s been under the weather since he arrived in Indian Wells. Despite being on the ropes against Milos Raonic and Thomaz Bellucci, Federer’s found a way through, elevating his game to win both matches in three sets. Put simply, ain’t no illness gonna keep King Fed down. “My game still allows me to play actually pretty good tennis regardless,” Federer said after he beat Bellucci. His form here has borne that out. He hasn’t been perfect all week (he struggled mightily with his forehand in the first set against Bellucci) but that’s irrelevant. He’s been perfect when he’s needed to be.
Pick: Federer in three.