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Indian Wells 2017: 5 matches we'd love to see from the fourth quarter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07:  Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina is congratulated by Novak Djokovic of Serbia after his victory in their singles match on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
The pair’s rivalry is slanted firmly in favour of Djokovic, but Del Potro has since returned to top form
Anuradha Santhanam

In what has been described as the toughest draw in the history of a tennis tournament, Indian Wells – or the BNP Paribas Open, the first ATP Masters tournament of the year, will see Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and more top seeds all in the same quarter.

That draw will promise some blockbuster tennis early on in the hard-court tournament.

Here’s a look at 5 matches that we could see in the final quarter alone:

Juan Martin del Potro vs Novak Djokovic

This could take place in Round 3, any upsets notwithstanding. As a result of a last-minute withdrawal by Milos Raonic, Argentine ace Juan Martin del Potro has been seeded at the tournament, albeit on the lower end at 31st – as a result of which he has a first round bye.

Djokovic has won four of the pair’s last 5 outings – with Del Potro’s sole victory, at the first round of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, coming in straight sets. Despite Djokovic’s majority wins over his Argentine rival, Del Potro has managed to take a set off the former No. 1 on each occasion.

The pair last met at the pre-quarterfinals of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco, Mexico, with Del Potro ending up on the losing side despite having a convincing one-set lead over the Serb.

Interestingly, the last time Del Potro and Djokovic faced off at Indian Wells was at the semi-finals of the tournament in 2013, and it was Del Potro who progressed to the finals, taking the first set of the eventual champion, Rafael Nadal.

Given the bottom-heavy draw this time around, that is not a possibility, but should Del Potro manage to move through to the finals, he could face either Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka – and the latter of the two will be an intriguing contest considering the lengthy, hard-fought quarter-final the two played at the 2016 US Open.

Although the rivalry is heavily slanted in favour of Djokovic at 12-4, Del Potro’s fighting spirit and Djokovic’s recently flagging form could make for an interesting combination – and create some big matches deeper into the draw.

Nick Kyrgios vs Alexander Zverev

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 26:  Alexander Zverev of Germany and Nick Kyrgios of Australia following their victory during the Men's Singles second round match against Pablo Carreno Busta and David Marrero of Spain on day five of the 2016 French Open at Roland Garros on May 26, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Both part of the ATP’s ‘Next Gen’ set of players, 19-year-old Alexander Zverev and 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios have already declared their tennis skill. Kyrgios, however, has been repeatedly in the news more for his behaviour than his immensely skilled gameplay, that has seen him at 16th in the rankings.

With no full-time coach, Kyrgios last year managed to win his debut title at the Rakuten Japan Open, while Zverev joined an elite list of players who won titles on Tour as teenagers with a win at St. Petersburg in 2016. That Zverev win was even more significant considering the teenager contested the final against an in-form Stan Wawrinka fresh off his US Open win.

The two young talents, both of whom are considered the ‘future’ of tennis, are on course for a Round 3 clash, with the winner to face either Novak Djokovic or Juan Martin del Potro.

The pair have never played each other on Tour, but faced off at last year’s Hopman Cup, a team tennis exhibition event in Australia, with Kyrgios winning fairly comfortably. This year, Kyrgios progressed to the semi-finals of the Mexico Open in Acapulco, losing in three sets to eventual champion Sam Querrey – but key in that Kyrgios juggernaut was his straight-sets win over Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

Zverev has done well for himself this year, too, and finished in the Round of 32 at the Australian Open, going down in a difficult five-set battle with eventual finalist Rafael Nadal; the German looked on several occasions to be in control of that match before a Nadal resurgence meant that Zverev was ousted from the tournament.

Both players are in the form (and prime) of their lives, but in terms of a mental battle, we might give this to the even-tempered Zverev, who has appeared to mature since last year.

Kyrgios and Zverev are also both playing the doubles, Zverev with older brother Mischa and Kyrgios with Serbian ace Nenad Zimonjic.

But this match is perhaps a definitive statement that the new generation of tennis players has not only arrived, but is looking to cement its place right at the top of the rankings.

Fun Fact: The pair were doubles partners in the past, pairing up at Roland Garros last year. They lost in their first match to the all-Spanish combine of Pablo Carreno Busta and David Marrero.

Fernando Verdasco vs Rafael Nadal

KEY BISCAYNE, FL - MARCH 24:  Fernando Verdasco and Rafael Nadal of Spain confer between points while playing Simone Bolelli and Andreas Seppi of Italy during the Miami Open presented by Itau at Crandon Park Tennis Center on March 24, 2016 in Key Biscayne, Florida.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

More of a revenge match than an actual rivalry, this one promises to be a whopper if it happens. Fernando Verdasco, although lower on titles than his rivals, has time and again showed his skill in pulling off upsets against the Big 4.

Perhaps the most ignominous of these – for Nadal, anyway, was the former No. 1’s first-round, five-set loss to Verdasco at the 2016 Australian Open. That loss may not have been as bad for the fact that it was in the first round of the Grand Slam, marking Nadal’s earliest ever exit at a major in his entire career.

Now, after a difficult 2016 that saw him struggle marginally with injury, and largely with burnout, Nadal is back and fitter than ever.

All three of Verdasco’s wins over Nadal in the pair’s 18-match history, however, have come in the pair’s last 5 outings – the most recent of which, incidentally, was at Indian Wells last year, with Nadal winning in straight sets. The scoreline itself was strange, however, with Nadal bagelling Verdasco in the first set, only for his lower-ranked compatriot to take the second to a long tiebreak.

Verdasco is fresh off a finals finish at the ATP Dubai Duty Free Championships, en route to which he beat two seeded players – countryman and 2017 Chennai Open champion Roberto Bautista Agut, who was seeded sixth, and the mercurial Frenchman Gael Monfils, following which he went down rather tamely to World No. 1 Andy Murray.

Given the pair’s rivalry, this revenge match will be an entertaining one.

This match could take place in Round 3.

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 29:  Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning the Men's Final match against Rafael Nadal of Spain on day 14 of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 29, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

After an epic Australian Open final that saw Roger Federer take his 18th Major title, the two former World No. 1s could face off yet again, but very early in the tournament. Drawn in the same quarter, fifth seed Nadal and ninth seed Federer could play each other in the fourth round of the tournament.

Federer has relatively easier opponents going into the fourth round, and after a first-round bye should easily see off Dudi Sela (who recently lost to Nick Kyrgios in Acapulco), and American Steve Johnson.

At the other end of that quarter, Novak Djokovic will have to trump Juan Martin del Potro in Round 3 before he takes on either Alexander Zverev or Nick Kyrgios; should the Serbian second seed win, the winner of the Federer-Nadal match will face Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

That also luckily means fans will be treated to a consistently high level of matches early on in the draw.

Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 10:  (L to R)Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal chats at the sponsors party of ATP Shanghai Rolex Masters 2016 at Qi Zhong Tennis Centre on October 10, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Kevin Lee/Getty Images)

Affectionately referred to as Djokodal by fans, former World No. 1s Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic share one of the most evenly contested rivalries in the history of tennis, one that is slanted ever so slightly in favour of Djokovic at 26-23.

Djokovic and Nadal could play each other in the quarter-finals.

Given the years of unstoppable form the Serb enjoyed, he has won the pair’s last seven matches against each other, most recently at the Rome Masters of 2016. Rafael Nadal went down in straight sets at that match, one played on his pet surface – clay.

Perhaps unfortunately for tennis watchers and fans, this match will happen only if Roger Federer loses to Rafael Nadal – the pair are slated for a third-round match-up at Indian Wells, the winner of whom could face Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

But Djokovic’s road to the quarters is not an easy one by any means – he will face Juan Martin del Potro in Round 3, following which he will have to stave off an attack from one of two top Next Gen players, 19-year-old Alexander Zverev – the youngest player in the ATP Top 20, or Nick Kyrgios, who defeated the Serb in Acapulco last week.

It is an uphill path for both players and one that will require relentless attacks from each player at their respective positions in the draw, but both players have dominated the sport in their own time, so this sets up not only another big contest – but yet another occasion for each player to prove themselves in a tight rivalry.

Edited by Staff Editor

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