INDIAN WELLS • Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are on course for another showdown, after winning their opening matches at the BNP Paribas Open in the California desert on Sunday.
Less than two months after Federer claimed an 18th Grand Slam title by beating Nadal in a classic Australian Open final, the two great tennis rivals could meet again, this time in the fourth round at Indian Wells.
Both won in style on Sunday, with Spanish fifth seed Nadal pouncing on Guido Pella's serve to break the Argentinian five times en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory in sizzling afternoon heat on the stadium hardcourt.
Federer enjoyed the relative cool of an evening match and was back in the locker room before working up a major sweat, easing to a 6-2, 6-1 win over Frenchman Stephane Robert in front of an appreciative capacity crowd of around 16,000.
"The beginning was difficult, just because I've never played him before, so I'm not sure about his patterns," ninth seed Federer said in a courtside interview.
"I was very happy I was able to loosen up and play good tennis. I started to serve really well, move around the court great."
While it was Federer's first match against Robert, he is far more familiar with Nadal. They have met 35 times, with Nadal leading 23-12.
Needing to win their respective third-round matches for a 36th meeting to happen, Nadal next faces 26th-seeded compatriot Fernando Verdasco, while Federer plays American 24th seed Steve Johnson.
"For sure I saw the draw," a relaxed Nadal said, adding that he was not really focused on Federer. "I go day by day. That's my way, to focus on my next match. I played I think a solid match (today)."
The path to the final on that side of the draw is littered with tricky obstacles, however, as second seed Novak Djokovic and in-form Australian Nick Kyrgios lie in wait as potential future opponents.
Djokovic, however, must next negotiate a dangerous third-round opponent in Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro, after the three-time defending champion advanced with an unconvincing 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) victory over Briton Kyle Edmund.
"First match, already a big test," the Serb said at a tournament where all the seeded players had first-round byes. "Throughout most of that second set, he was a better player. I got lucky to pull through in straight sets."
But Djokovic said he cannot afford to think about a possible quarter-final clash with either of his long-time rivals with 2009 US Open champion del Potro, a 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 winner over fellow Argentinian Federico del Bonis, coming up.
While Djokovic has won 12 of their 16 career meetings, del Potro handed him a crushing double tie- break defeat in the first round of the Rio Olympics - a loss which the Serb avenged in Acapulco this month.
"Big guy, big serve, big forehand," the 12-time Grand Slam winner said of del Potro. "Definitely not the draw that you like early in the tournament and that you wish for, but it is what it is."
Djokovic is trying to get back to the winner's circle after a shock second-round exit at the Australian Open and a quarter-final loss to Kyrgios in Acapulco.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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