Throughout his career Rafael Nadal has always flirted with competitive perfection. So dedicated to his craft that he never takes a point off, lets his guard down, or hangs his head, Nadal is the quintessential fighter, the one coaches and pundits refer to, the iconic template of aspiration.
This week at the BNP Paribas Open the Spaniard is flirting with another type of perfection: statistical.
Perfection 🙌#IndianWells pic.twitter.com/Tx4kiWSPoG
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 16, 2022
Nadal defeated Reilly Opelka, 7-6(3), 7-6(5) on a balmy Wednesday afternoon in Stadium 1 to improve to 18-0 on the season and set a quarterfinal clash with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios. With his triumph the Spaniard becomes the second man in ATP history to start a season by reeling off more than 17 wins in succession. Only Novak Djokovic, who stacked up 41 consecutive wins to start his 2011 season, and 26 consecutive victories to begin his 2020 campaign, has done better.
Beneath perfect blue skies in the Coachella Valley, 35-year-old Nadal played what he called his best match of the tournament, stringing together enough head-spinning returns and eye-popping winners to edge a rocket-serving American that left him duly impressed.
Opelka routinely rained down serves that topped 140 MPH on the radar gun, but with Nadal plastered against the back fence while returning, the 6’11” world No.17 was only able to manage nine aces and win 76 percent of his first-serve points – well below his season average of 84 percent.
Nadal did his best to put returns in play, trying – successfully – to goad Opelka into rallies. After the match he tried to explain just how difficult his task was.
“Well I managed it so-so,” he said of facing Opelka’s serve. “I didn’t know if the cameras could follow me 10 meters behind the baseline. It was difficult because it’s not only about the speed, it’s about the spin too. It’s difficult to read his serve, and at the same time it’s not about just putting the ball in the court because he has a huge forehand also.
“It’s a great victory for me against one of the toughest opponents I can play.”
Nadal was the better player in the tiebreaks, using his big-stage experience and his poise under pressure to navigate the treacherous terrain flawlessly. He won all ten of his service points across the two tiebreaks.
Opelka, who drops to 0-2 lifetime against Nadal, performed exceptionally throughout the contest. He was the first player to break in the match as he moved ahead 4-2 in the second set, but the persistent, patient Nadal quickly broke back in the next game and continued to pressure until the tiebreak.
“It’s very difficult to control his weapons, with the serve with the forehand, but I think I played my best match so far in the tournament,” Nadal said. “I needed it today, so very pleased with the way I managed to win that match in two difficult tiebreaks – this victory means a lot to me.”
Three-time BNP Paribas Open champion Nadal improves to 57-10 lifetime at Indian Wells. He will now look ahead to his ninth career meeting with Kyrgios. The pair have met nine times with Nadal coming out on top five times. But the left-handed legend knows he will have his handful with the Aussie.
“He’s playing great, no?” Nadal said. “He’s one of the toughest opponents on tour – everybody knows how good he is when he’s motivated, probably tomorrow he will be. It’s going to be a good test for me, a good challenge – I’m very excited to be in the quarterfinals.”
Rublev Stretches Winning Streak to 12
Andrey Rublev continued his torrid tennis out on Stadium 3 on Wednesday, edging out Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, 7-6(5), 6-4, to stretch his current winning streak to 12 victories and set a quarterfinal clash with Grigor Dimitrov.
Rublev is in the midst of a career-best run at Indian Wells – he had never progressed beyond the third round before this year.
In a close contest, Rublev held sway with strong serving. He won 33 of 36 first-serve points and converted the only break point of the second set after clinching the opening set in a tense tiebreak.
Alcaraz Continues to Impress
He’s only 18, but Carlos Alcaraz is playing like a seasoned veteran in 2022. The Spaniard won his first ATP 500 title last week at Rio, where he became the youngest champion in tournament history. Here in California, he’s continued to surge. Alcaraz steamrolled France’s Gael Monfils, 7-5, 6-1, to become the youngest player to reach the quarterfinals at Indian Wells since Michael Chang in 1989.
Alcaraz has now won nine consecutive matches, and 16 of his last 17.
Kids these days 😄#IndianWells | @alcarazcarlos03 pic.twitter.com/IKcXT9saoL
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 17, 2022
Norrie Ends Brooksby’s Run
Jenson Brooksby continues to emerge as a pivotal piece of the puzzle that is American men’s tennis. Entering Wednesday’s round of 16 tilt with Cameron Norrie the 21-year-old Sacramento native had handled everything that was thrown at him, but he could not handle defending champion Cameron Norrie.
Norrie edged him in two entertaining sets, 6-2, 6-4, stretching his Indian Wells winning streak to nine matches and setting a clash with Alcaraz in the quarterfinals.
“I’m feeling good physically and I like the conditions here but I got absolutely whacked by him last time,” he said of Alcaraz. “He’s one of the best up-and-coming players, really solid both sides, he won a 500 already this year, so he’s confident. It’s going to be a tough one – hopefully forward to getting some revenge on him.”
Norrie was referring to his straight sets loss to the Spaniard at the US Open last year.
Fritz Mounting Another Surge
The California vibes just keep rolling for Taylor Fritz at Indian Wells. The 24-year-old American gutted out another satisfying victory on a sunny Wednesday in Stadium 1, edging Australia’s Alex de Minaur, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(5), to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
A semifinalist last year in the California desert, Fritz relished in his big-stage breakthrough at the time, but five months later the 20th-ranked American has preached not resting on his laurels.
“I think just my level as a player has gone up. I think I’ve gone up several levels,” he said after his second-round win over Kamil Majchrzak. “I think I’m a way better player than I was when I was here last year and I think I’ve improved a lot.”
The Southern California native has backed up those words this week – Fritz has now won seven of his last eight at the BNP Paribas Open, and reached the quarterfinals at his last three Masters 1000 appearances.
“I expect a lot more of myself,” he explained. “Back then I was ranked about 40, and now I’m between 15 and 20. My goal is to move into the top-10. So I definitely have a lot higher expectations.”
Fritz will move on to face Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic. The World No.61 engineered a colossal upset of sixth-seeded Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4, to equal the biggest win of his career by ranking and reach the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals for the second time.
“Obviously he’s playing really well,” Fritz said of the 22-year-old. “He had a good run in Australia. He’s a really good ball striker and I think it’s going to be a lot of big hitting.”
Big hitting should work just fine for Fritz. He cracked 14 aces and 32 winners against De Minaur today. The Australian is one of the most tenacious defenders in the sport, but Fritz found ways to get around him.
“I’m really not a big fan of playing De Minaur,” Fritz said, adding: “The thing that hurts me a little bit is that I probably watch too many De Minaur highlights where he just runs down 50 balls and makes a ridiculous pass, so it’s always in the back of my mind.”
Fritz won his only previous meeting with Kecmanovic, 6-1, 7-6(1), in the Atlanta quarterfinals in 2019.
Dimitrov Takes Down Isner
Grigor Dimitrov is coming to life in the Coachella Valley once again. The 30-year-old world No.35 edged American John Isner to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year at Indian Wells, 6-3, 7-6(6).
Dimitrov, who reached the semifinals last year, will face either Andrey Rublev or Hubert Hurkacz in the last eight.