Rafael Nadal’s progress through the Indian Wells draw continues to be as smooth and unruffled as any flat and frictionless surface you care to name, as he defeated compatriot Marcel Granollers easily, 6-1 6-4, to move on to a meeting with Alexandr Dolgopolov.
Like Nadal, Granollers is 25, from Spain and favors clay, but it was apparent from the beginning that the similarities end there. A double-fault and a forehand carried out by the netcord gave the 26th-ranked Spaniard 15-30 in Nadal’s first service game, but it was the closest he came to leading. After holding, a couple of testing points and some nervous errors gave Nadal the break, and he breezed through the set from there, breaking the court open with the big cross-court forehand and hitting into space in effortless fashion.
Granollers, by contrast, looked bewildered. Hampered by only making 33 percent of his first serves in the first set, it seemed that being Nadal’s compatriot had not prepared him for the experience of facing the world No. 2 across the net. Struggling to hold serve at 0-2, Granollers traded baseline blows with Nadal, only for yet another of those big cross-court forehands to whistle and whip into the corner. The double-take Granollers gave the mark, compounded of shock and disbelief that someone could hit with that pace and accuracy from off the back foot and behind the baseline, was an understandable, even endearing reaction. They may both play Davis Cup for Spain, but this was clearly another ballgame altogether.
Leading 3-2 in the second set, however, Nadal seemed to take his foot off the gas (not uncharacteristic after a swift first set). Caught off-balance by a delightful dropshot from Granollers to go 0-30 down and possibly unbalanced further by a time violation from umpire Fergus Murphy, a forehand error saw him give up two break points. The first was squandered in an understandably over-eager fashion by Granollers and the second saved with a big serve, but Nadal never quite recovered the aura of the first set, making some erratic errors and looking uncharacteristically tentative with the ball in the air. Two match points came and went on Granollers’s serve, then two more on Nadal’s own before he closed out the match with an emphatic ace down the T.
Still, a slightly sluggish second set does not detract from a thoroughly strong victory over a seeded opponent, and indeed, seemed in keeping with the sleepy atmosphere of the late afternoon match. Nadal joins the last sixteen having expended minimal amounts of energy and shaken off whatever rust he accrued during February. He will be chomping at the bit at the prospect of a stiffer test.