After 16 years on the tour, a reporter asked Fernando Verdasco if tennis was getting a little boring. Mind you, this was after Verdasco, 34, shocked No. 3 seed Grigor Dimitrov with a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 second-round victory Saturday.
So the answer was, well, no.
The former World No. 7 had 12 aces with serves that topped 130 mph to defeat the Nitto ATP Finals champion and set up a third-round match against 20-year-old American Taylor Fritz.
“Tennis was always my life since I’m a baby,” said Verdasco, who is now 2-8 against Top-10 players at Indian Wells. “I always love this sport. I always love to play. Being able to go out to the court and know that you are ready to fight these guys, no? Now I’m 34 and I have to fight against players 21, 22, 23 that are much younger. They have much less miles or kilometers in his legs. And I just have to work really hard and keep that motivation high to be able to win matches.”
Every victory for Taylor Fritz seems like a big one these days, but at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, they’re sentimental as well. The 20-year-old from Rancho Santa Fe and member in great standing of the ATP’s #NextGen movement moved onto the third round of the BNP Paribas Open with his 6-4, 7-6(4) win over No. 27 seed Andrey Rublev. That he did so in such familiar surroundings was no coincidence, he said.
“I got to play with a lot of emotions and heart just because the crowd was pumping me up so much,” said Fritz. “They were cheering so heavily in my favor, and it really got me excited, pumped up. And not to mention as well I’ve played so many tournaments as a kid here. I’m just so used to the courts. I just feel comfortable. You kind of just feel that sense of comfort and confidence at certain places.”
Though this was the first match between the two on the ATP Tour, they are old opponents from the juniors. “I knew it was going to be a close match,” Fritz said. “All of our matches are always close. And there is a lot of big hitting, but I feel like I got a lot of momentum and played really well in a lot of the big moments of the match. I was able to pull it out.”
Looking as if she might exit the tournament just 24 hours after seeing her mural unveiled as defending champion, Elena Vesnina instead staged a thrilling comeback to hold off American CiCi Bellis, 2-6, 6-1, 6-1. Vesnina, the No. 24 seed, won 12 of the last 14 games, pressuring the gutty 18-year-old into mistakes after she looked like she might sail to the third round.
“She’s having a great season,” said Vesnina, who is bidding for the tournament’s $1 million bonus promised to any man or woman who wins both the singles and doubles titles. “She’s only 18 years old. When they announced that and they said [her] highest ranking is 35 in the world, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s impressive.’ On the warmup I was thinking about that. She has a bright future. She’s a really talented girl, a good fighter. I’m just happy that I won this match.”
In an all-brother doubles duel, the Bryans — Bob and Mike — defeated the Zverevs — Alexander and Mischa — 6-3, 4-6, 10-1. The No. 7 seeded twins, making their 20th tournament appearance, won the 2013 and 2014 titles. The 39-year-olds have won 114 doubles titles, including a record 16 Grand Slams, but haven’t won a major since the 2014 US Open.
“I feel maybe the last couple of years we’ve played a lighter schedule, but going into this year, we feel re-energized to go for that No. 1 ranking,” Bob told Newsday last month.
“We’re going to go all-in this year and see how it goes,” Mike said.
There were varying reactions to the cool and damp conditions at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden Saturday, depending on the way it affected each players’ game. Reigning Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, a 6-4, 6-1 winner over Lara Arruabarrena, was fine with it. Fritz and Madison Keys? Not so much.
“I thought it was great conditions, because it wasn’t too hot, wasn’t windy,” said Wozniacki, one of the most consistent baseliners and best movers in the game. “It was kind of nice. It was drizzling slightly, but it wasn’t really affecting play. I was just keeping an eye on the lines, making sure they weren’t slippery, but everything was fine.”
Fritz and Keys, both big servers who favor faster surfaces, were not as enthusiastic.
“I didn’t feel like the ball was moving as much as it does a lot of days,” Fritz said.
Keys was upset Saturday by 117th-ranked Danielle Collins. “I definitely think the slow high-bouncing, gritty courts don’t completely play to my favor and especially days like this when its heavier and kind of rainy, it’s not perfect.”