ATP Indian Wells third round preview: Rafael Nadal vs Fernando Verdasco

Three-time BNP Paribas Open champion Rafael Nadal continues his quest for a fourth title in the Californian Desert. The former world number one was victorious at Indian Wells in 2007, 2009 and 2013. Nadal is also searching for his first hard court singles title in three years, and first Masters 1000 title since defeating John Isner in the Western and Southern Open final in Cincinnati back in August 2013 before going on to win his second US Open title. Moreover, the Spaniard's start to 2017 has been impressive as the sixth seed advanced to his fourth Australian Open final. However, he suffered a rare defeat to rival Roger Federer who claimed a record-extending 18th Grand Slam singles title at his expense. The Spaniard also reached the final in Acapulco for the third time but first time on hard courts, and he suffered his first defeat there. Suffering a shock loss to Sam Querrey in the final, therefore, Nadal is still a suspect at losing matches that he should be winning.

On the other side of the net to Nadal will be a fellow seeded Spaniard in the number 26 seed Fernando Verdasco. Nadal's fellow left-hander had the chance to defeat the three-time defending BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals in Doha but failed to convert multiple match points. The former world number seven had the chance for revenge but was dealt with a tough first round draw at the Australian Open against Djokovic once again. Unfortunately, Verdasco was unable to cause an upset in the first round for the second year running as he upset Nadal in the first round last year in a five-set thriller. It echoed their 2009 semifinal which was of course at a higher stake but still a very good win for the 26th seed. The leftie went on to reach his first final of the year on the same weekend as Nadal in Dubai losing to world number one Andy Murray in straight sets. This quarter of the draw dubbed as the "quarter of death" has even strengthened as all eight seeds in the bottom two sections of the draw have reached the third round.

Nadal will be looking to win a fourth title here at the Californian Desert (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
Nadal will be looking to win a fourth title here at the Californian Desert (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Nadal's route to the third round

As one of the top 32 seeds at the BNP Paribas Open, you get the privilege of receiving a bye into the second round. It can work in your favor or against you, as your first opponent will already have played a match and adjusted to the conditions. Nevertheless, Nadal was up against world number 145 Guido Pella. The 14-time Grand Slam champion dropped serve twice in this match but overcame the Argentine, 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the third round. It was an important win for Nadal as his fellow Big Four colleagues have lost to players outside of the top 100 in the first couple of months in the season. Denis Istomin and Mischa Zverev got the better of Djokovic and Murray in Melbourne, whilst Evgeny Donskoy shocked Federer in Dubai.

Verdasco's route to the third round

Like his compatriot, the 26th seeded Spaniard had a bye into the second round by virtue of being one of the top 32 seeds in the draw. Verdasco overcame a potential banana skin against multiple time Grand Slam doubles winner Pierre-Hugues Herbert, 7-6 (5), 6-1 to reach the third round at Indian Wells once more.

Their history

The two Spaniards have battled on 18 occasions with no surprise of Nadal having the upper hand on his compatriot. The former three-time champion leads 15-3 in their head-to-head series, however, Verdasco has won three of the last five encounters. Nadal leads 7-2 on hard courts, 1-0 on grass courts and 7-1 on clay courts.

Nadal won the first 13 encounters against the 26th seed that included wins in the exact same stage at the BNP Paribas Open ten years ago which was a 6-4, 6-4 win for the Spaniard, who went on to win his first of three titles at Indian Wells. The former nine-time French Open champion defeated Verdasco in their first Grand Slam meeting in the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2008. En route to winning his fourth successive title in the Parisian city. Their next encounter was a five-set epic in the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2009 which Nadal came out on top, once again en route to winning another title. The 30-year-old thrashed Verdasco in their Masters 1000 final meeting in Monte Carlo in 2010, 6-0, 6-1 and that same year, Nadal was victorious in their quarterfinal meeting at Flushing Meadows en route to winning his first US Open title to complete his Career Grand Slam.

The former world number seven is capable of causing upsets on the big stage (Photo by Tom Dulat / Getty Images)
The former world number seven is capable of causing upsets on the big stage (Photo by Tom Dulat / Getty Images)

Verdasco shocked Nadal on the blue clay courts in the Spanish capital of Madrid in the third round in 2012, dispatching the King of Clay, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. It was Verdasco's firs win over his compatriot in 14 meetings. They wouldn't meet for another three years with the 33-year-old upsetting Nadal once more in the third round of the Miami Open, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. The sixth seed defeated his fellow countryman in Hamburg in 2015 but Verdasco shocked Nadal in the first round in Melbourne last year. It was a five-set thriller but Nadal once more gained his revenge and dispatched Verdasco for the 15th time in their meeting at this exact stage in 2016, 6-0, 7-6 (9).

Who wins?

Both players are comfortable on playing on hard courts and both are used to playing in these conditions in the Californian Desert. However, the former world number one will be looking to continue his good run of form in 2017, as he looks to rise up the rankings again. The last couple of seasons has been lackluster for Nadal, failing to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time since 2004. On the other hand, he managed to snag one of the Masters 1000 titles in Monte Carlo, and win doubles gold at the Rio Olympics with Marc Lopez  last year.

The 26th seed will need to have his forehand firing on all cylinders, which can do plenty of damage to Nadal, and he will need to firmly place him behind the baseline. Moreover, the 2009 semifinalist's leftie serves good weapon but the fine returner than Nadal his, he shouldn't pose too many problems of sending it back to Verdasco. Moreover, the sixth seed will need to make sure that nerves do not creep into his game as he dropped serve a couple of times in his first match and his form slightly dipped. Nevertheless, this should be another straightforward victory but if Nadal is not at his best then Verdasco can certainly cause an upset.

This is the second match scheduled inside Stadium 1 following the fourth round women's encounter between 21st seed Caroline Garcia, and the two-time Grand Slam champion and eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Spaniards should be on the court at approximately 1 pm local time. As this section of the draw begins to heat up, the winner of this match will face 24th seed Steve Johnson or most likely, the new Australian Open champion, former four-time champion and ninth seed Roger Federer in the fourth round.

Prediction: Nadal in straight sets