After surviving a scare against Sebastian Korda in his opening match in Indian Wells, Rafael Nadal earned a far more comfortable victory over 27th seed Daniel Evans on Monday.
The Spaniard advanced to the Round of 16 with a 7-5, 6-3 victory, extending his career-best start to an ATP Tour season to 17-0 and earning his 400th career ATP Masters 1000 victory.
“I didn’t know at all about that, but good numbers, of course,” he said when told he hit the 400-wins mark.
Nadal stormed out of the gates with an explosive hold, finding open court time and again with his favoured forehand. But after discussing his struggles with control in the desert conditions following the Korda match, Nadal’s calibration again fell off as the steady Evans broke in his next return game.
“The match didn’t start the way that I wanted,” Nadal said, “but I was able to hit a couple of good passing shots in some key moments, and then things started to build a bit better.”
From 4-2 in the first, Nadal won eight of nine games to take the first and open up a 3-0 lead in the second. Nadal used pinpoint passing shots to set up both breaks in the opening set, saving a break point in between at 5-all with a tough backhand volley.
The only break of set two came when a freak return sailed off the top of Nadal’s frame, high into the desert sky and back into the court. After an interminable wait, Evans could not control his overhead off the bounce.
Nadal saved the only break point against him in the set with a surprise serve and volley at 3-1, and won his final 11 service points as he raced through the finish line with two love holds.
With Medvedev falling to Gael Monfils earlier on Monday and Alexander Zverev being upset by Tommy Paul on Sunday evening, the fourth-seeded Nadal is the highest-ranked player remaining in the desert draw.
The three-time Indian Wells champion will next face 17th seed Reilly Opelka, who battled past Denis Shapovalov, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4 later on Monday.
“I need to keep improving, of course, but it has been a small improvement today. That’s important because the next round is going to be a very difficult one,” previewed Nadal, who was particularly pleased with his serve and forehand against Evans.
Opelka, who saved all four break points he faced against the Canadian, gained a measure of revenge for his four-set loss to Shapovalov in the Australian Open third round. After dropping the tie-break and saving a break point in his first service game of set two, the American secured an early break in each of the latter sets to reach the last 16 for the first time in Indian Wells.
The American No. 1 will provide another stern test for Nadal on Wednesday. Opelka entered the year’s first Masters 1000 event at a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 17 on the back of two ATP 250 finals in February, including a title run in Dallas.
A three-time tour-level champion, Opelka reached his first Masters 1000 final in Toronto in August, four months after reaching the semis in Rome. Nadal ended his run on the Italian clay, 6-4, 6-4, in the pair’s only ATP Head2Head meeting to date.
Does Opelka fancy his chances against the 21-time Grand Slam champion a bit more on an American hard court?
“Not really,” he said in a post-match interview. “He’s Rafa, he’s undefeated this year… I’m expecting the highest level there can be out there. It’s the toughest challenge in the game,” he added, referencing his next opponent’s place among the “Big Four”.
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