INDIAN WELLS: As Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal limbered up for a renewal of their epic rivalry, Kei Nishikori led the way into the quarter-finals of the ATP Indian Wells Masters on Wednesday.
Japan’s fourth-seeded Nishikori erased a 4-1 second-set deficit to put away American Donald Young 6-2, 6-4.
Nishikori has yet to drop a set, but his steady progress to the quarter-finals has been overshadowed by the hoopla surrounding the talent-laden bottom quarter of the draw, where Federer, Nadal and world number two Novak Djokovic, who own 44 Grand Slam titles among them, are grouped.
Djokovic, whose five Indian Wells titles include the last three, was also up Wednesday, seeking a quarter-final berth against Nick Kyrgios, the 21-year-old Australian who stunned him earlier this month in Acapulco.
It was another blow for Djokovic, who was left reeling by a second-round Australian Open exit as Federer and Nadal advanced to a title showdown won by the Swiss great in five sets.
Federer said that his 18th Grand Slam singles title is “in the top five” of his career wins, in part because of the uncertainty he faced in 2017 after a year disrupted by a knee injury that required surgery.
Nadal, too, battled injury in 2016, hence their relatively lowly rankings that made their round of 16 clash at Indian Wells possible.
It will be the first time since their first meeting in 2004 that the two superstars have met before the quarter-finals of a tournament, but Federer said that didn’t dim his anticipation of a 36th encounter with Nadal.
“That’s why I came here, play against guys like Rafa,” he said. “Now we have it. Better be excited now. Otherwise I came for the wrong reasons.”