Roger Federer, one of the classiest athletes ever to wield a tennis racquet, will face Nick Kyrgios, the sport’s reigning bad boy, in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open, opposite ends of the behavior and age spectrum coming together in an intriguing convergence at Indian Wells.
Roger Federer, 35, was as stylish and masterful as ever Wednesday in winning the latest renewal of his rivalry with Rafael Nadal, 6-2, 6-3, fashioning the first three-match win streak against the Spanish left-hander in their 36-match history. A service break in the first game of the first set was his launching pad in this fourth-round victory; he faced only one break point in the match and he saved that in the second game of that first set.
Having few long rallies made it easier to play on the second straight day. “For me it was physically a good match,” Federer said. “Also, looking ahead, it’s always good saving energy, conserving energy for the rest of the tournament, but also for the rest of the season and for your life, because every step more you take on court has an effect down the road, I believe.”
That next step will pit him against Australia’s Kyrgios, 21, who upset Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-6 (3), Wednesday for his second victory over the world’s No. 2 player in two weeks.
Known for his big serve and even bigger mouth — Kyrgios has been fined and suspended for tantrums and verbal abuse toward fans — he was relatively restrained Wednesday and used his prodigious talents to play well from the baseline and supplement his monstrous serve. He was satisfied that he proved his previous victory over Djokovic, in the quarterfinals at Acapulco, wasn’t a fluke.
“Every time I go on the practice court I try and be positive, try and have fun, not being too hard on myself,” he said. “I was in a pretty dark place. Even I was at [No.] 13 last year, but I wasn’t in a good place mentally at all. I was beating myself down. … I’m just trying to stay happy and just try and enjoy my tennis a little bit.”
Federer’s victory over Nadal wasn’t an instant classic in the way Federer’s five-set win at this year’s Australian Open immediately became part of tennis lore, but it was enough to get him through and to offer further proof he’s progressing smoothly in his comeback from knee problems and a six-month absence.
“I don’t think we had quite the rhythm that we had in Australia, but we knew that going in. And I think he, especially from the baseline, he didn’t control the ball as well as he did in Australia,” Federer said. “I actually surprised myself by the control I had on the baseline, because against Steve Johnson [in the third round], I really struggled to control the ball. So I thought it was going to be even more crazy against Rafa with his spin and his lefty hook and everything. It was going to be much tougher.
“In practice this morning I hardly made any returns. I didn’t know what was going on. I thought it was going to be rough.”
It turned out to be easy. Nadal — whose lead in their head-to-head series is now 23-13 — graciously credited Federer for being the better player. “In Australia was a very close match. I had good chances to win. Today, not,” Nadal said. “Today he played better than me. I didn’t play my best match, and he played well. These kind of matches, when you’re not playing your match, is impossible to win.”
Djokovic was equally complimentary toward Kyrgios, but with a cautionary overtone.
“Undoubtedly he’s capable of a lot of big things. That was projected for him already a couple years back,” Djokovic said after the end of his 19-match winning streak at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “He’s not very consistent with his results, but he’s coming closer to top 10. He had his best year last year, so things are coming together for him. There is no doubt that he has a big game, and that game that he has can and should be for top-10, top-five player.
“So it just depends on him and his commitment to the sport. Obviously, it’s not only about the game. It’s many things that have to fall in place.”
Federer and Kyrgios have played once before, a match Kyrgios won on clay in Madrid in 2015. The difference between that and the hard court here makes that almost irrelevant. “But I’m very impressed him taking out Novak, back-to-back weeks, on Novak’s best surface,” Federer said. “I hope it’s going to lead to something great for Nick that he realizes if he puts his head down and focuses that he can bring it, day in and day out, week in and week out.”