INDIAN WELLS: Rafael Nadal did his part to set up a fourth-round clash with Roger Federer at the ATP Indian Wells Masters on Tuesday (Mar 14), powering past Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-5.
Nadal's victory marked the second straight year he has vanquished his fellow Spaniard in the third round at Indian Wells.
Federer, who beat Nadal in a five-set thriller to lift his 18th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open six weeks ago, faced American Steve Johnson later Tuesday for a chance to set up the rematch.
He and Nadal have faced each other 35 times in a celebrated rivalry, but they haven't met before the quarter-finals of a tournament since their first meeting in the round of 32 at Miami in 2004.
Their star-studded quarter of the draw also features five-time Indian Wells champion Novak Djokovic, the second seed who faced a tough third-round clash with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro under the Stadium Court lights.
While Djokovic has won 12 of their 16 career meetings, del Potro has produced some big wins in the series, including a first-round triumph en route to a silver medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year.
Djokovic avenged that defeat with a three-round victory in Acapulco this month.
"I have to give it my all," said Djokovic of the task ahead. "That's what it takes to beat this guy. Even though he is not ranked as high and he hasn't played that many tournaments (he was) definitely one of the best players in the world last year, especially in the second part of the year, winning Davis Cup, silver medal for his country - beating myself - and Wawrinka at Wimbledon."
With the loaded bottom quarter the focus of attention, fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan quietly advanced to the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.
Nishikori booked a date with unseeded American Donald Young, who ousted 14th-seeded Lucas Pouille of France 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
Despite two "horrible" games, Nadal was pleased with his overall effort against Verdasco, a left-hander like himself who has pushed him in the past.
"I played a good match - very aggressive with my serve, serving well, hitting good forehands, good backhands.
"I think I played much better today than the first day. I played two horrible games, terrible. That's it. For the rest of the match I think I played very well."
The blip came after Nadal had broken for a 2-1 lead in the second set. He was promptly broken to love himself, Then Verdasco held with a love game.
But Nadal gained the break he needed for a 6-5 lead in a game Verdasco book-ended with double faults, and served it out without a hitch.
Men’s third round:
Malek Jaziri (TUN) bt Taylor Fritz (USA) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
Donald Young (USA) bt Lucas Pouille (FRA) 6-4, 1-6, 6-3
Kei Nishikori (JPN) bt Gilles Muller (LUX) 6-2, 6-2
Rafael Nadal (ESP) bt Fernando Verdasco (ESP) 6-3, 7-5
Women’s fourth round:
Karolína Plískova (CZE) bt Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) 5-1 retired
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) bt Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) bt Caroline Garcia (FRA) 6-1, 6-4
Venus Williams (USA) bt Peng Shuai (CHN) 3-6, 6-1, 6-3