As the fields begin to thin at Indian Wells, we preview and predict three must-see matches in the desert.
Here’s a classic collision between generations new and old, between the Golden Age and whatever is going to take its place. The 29-year-old Nadal and the 18-year-old Zverev have yet to play each other, which makes this match a kind of blank slate that we can sit back and enjoy without any expectations. Well, maybe one: While Nadal is the favorite because of his pedigree, this would seem to be a ripe moment for Zverev to spring a changing-of-the-guard upset. The German is coming off a 6-2, 6-2 win over Gilles Simon, and his size and style—he’s 6’5” and has an excellent two-handed backhand—have been a winning combination for others against Rafa in the past. Winner: Nadal
Is this match really happening already? In the quarterfinals? I guess Halep’s No. 5 seeding is proof of how poorly she has played so far this season. She’s looked better in Indian Wells, which isn’t a surprise, considering that she won the event last year. The trouble is, Serena has also looked sharp, and unlike last year she hasn’t been distracted by the setting. While the Romanian has pushed the American in their last two matches, both of which were played on U.S. hard courts, Serena is 6-1 in their head to head. I theorized at the start of the tournament that Serena would be especially focused on winning it, after having to pull out (against Halep) 12 months ago. Nothing has made me think I’m going to be wrong yet. Winner: S. Williams
On the surface, this late-night popcorn show also appears to be a match between an establishment veteran and an upstart youth. Tsonga is 31 and reached his only Grand Slam final eight years ago; Thiem is 22 and could very well be reaching, and winning, Grand Slam finals eight years from now. In reality, though, this feels like a battle of equals. Tsonga is ranked No. 9; Thiem is No. 13 and rising fast. In their only meeting, in 2013, Tsonga squeaked through in a third-set tiebreaker, and Thiem has only improved since. After his two tournament titles this spring, he seems like the more reliable player. Winner: Thiem