Defending champion and third-seeded Rafael Nadal blasted his way into the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday afternoon, snapping off his forehands that landed with a loud pop and giving Mario Ancic no room to hope. Nadal beat Ancic, 6-2, 6-2, in 65 minutes and then pronounced himself pleased with the state of his game.
Second-seeded Novak Djokovic tiptoed his way into the fourth round. He navigated through a shaky second set, survived some crucial service breaks in the third set and eliminated Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, in a two-hour, 35-minute match that showed the resilience that Djokovic has sometimes seemed to miss.
The contrasting wins keep the pair on course for a possible semifinal meeting. Djokovic will next face Croatian veteran Ivan Ljubicic, the 20th-seeded player who beat Argentine qualifier Brian Dabul, 6-2, 6-3, and Nadal will get the winner of Monday's late match between on-the-rise Americans John Isner, the 15th-seeded player, and Sam Querrey, the 17th-seeded player.
In a slight upset Monday, 2009 Australian Open semifinalist and 10th-seeded Fernando Verdasco was soundly beaten by 19th-seeded Tomas Berdych, 6-0, 6-3. Also moving into the fourth round was Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain, who will face 21st-seeded Juan Monaco. Monaco eliminated 11th-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 6-3.
Djokovic seemed on his way out of the tournament when he gave Kohlschreiber three match points in the 10th game of the third set. It happened this fast: Djokovic knocked a forehand into the net, stood helpless as Kohlschreiber nailed a forehand winner of his own and then sailed another forehand long.
With not much to lose, Djokovic said he became freer in his swinging and more efficient in his serving. "I managed to have more aggression in the play and to take over control of the points.
In fact the Serbian cracked a forehand winner to save the first match point, accepted gratefully a Kohlschreiber backhand passing shot that landed inches wide, then pressured the German into trying another passing shot that went wide.
"In those moments," Djokovic said, "you just try to stay focused and work things in the best possible way."
That way was to press forward, to make Kohlschreiber try two more passing shots that missed, to put in an ace and to slam a forehand winner to win the game and even the set at 5-5.
Once into the tiebreak, Djokovic took control quickly, going up 4-0 within a minute with the help of another ace and with Kohlschreiber trying to be too forceful with some forehands that went long.
"I tried to take over control of the points quickly," Djokovic said. "I just don't understand why I didn't do that throughout the whole match. It was my fault … he regained his rhythm so he was just a point away from victory. So these things frustrate me a little bit. But what can you do?"
Nadal's play was so dominating that his postgame talk wandered onto the subject of his fence-patterned brownish shorts. "It's a little more different than usual," Nadal said. "Is too much for me. I change everything in Miami."
Miami is where the ATP Tour goes next, but Nadal seems to have no immediate plans to leave Southern California early.
"I think I am playing at a good level with my forehand," Nadal said. Ancic, who is making a comeback after struggling most of last year to recover from a case of mononucleosis, also couldn't do much damage on Nadal's serve.
The Spaniard won 23 of 24 points when he was good on a first serve including all 11 in the second set, but he was quick to remind everyone that his game is not based on a big serve.
"The serve was important today," he said, "but more important was my rhythm from the baseline. I lost only a few points because I didn't have mistakes … only seven unforced errors and 29 winners. That's very good statistics."
Nadal has moved well throughout this tournament, which he also won in 2007, making it seem as if he is fully recovered from the knee injury that caused him to retire from his Australian Open quarterfinal match against Andy Murray.
"I think I am playing at a good level with my forehand," he said. "I'm trying to do something [with his forehand], playing aggressive, changing the direction. I just want to keep working like this, keep playing like this and try to play a little bit more aggressive with the backhand. That's it. I am very happy with how I am playing."