INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal is still perfect in 2022.
The Spaniard defeated 27th-seeded Daniel Evans 7-5, 6-3 in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open, improving his record to 17-0 this year in pursuit of an ATP Tour-leading fourth title.
Nadal tied Roger Federer (2018) and Pete Sampras (1997) for the third-best overall start to a season in the Open era that began in 1968.
Daniil Medvedev’s rise to No. 1 in the world came crashing down in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 loss to Gael Monfils. Medvedev needed to reach the quarterfinals in the desert to stay at the top, where he replaced Novak Djokovic.
“Is it better to be No. 1 for let’s say one week in your life or never touch it?” Medvedev said. “You know, I think it’s still better to at least touch it.”
Djokovic will reclaim the No. 1 ranking next week. The Serb is unvaccinated against COVID-19, so he wasn’t allowed to enter the United States to play at Indian Wells or the upcoming Miami Open.
So far this year, no one is touching the fourth-ranked Nadal.
He became the first player to win 400 matches in ATP Masters 1000 events.
After sitting out much of last year because of injury, Nadal has been on a tear. He won titles at Melbourne, the Australian Open for his record 21st Grand Slam title and Acapulco, and is chasing a third career title at Indian Wells.
Nadal’s win over Evans under a searing desert sun had him coming from a break down in the first set. It ended with the Spaniard serving out the match at love, ripping a forehand winner on triple match point.
“It’s an important victory against a tricky opponent,” Nadal said. “It’s not an easy opponent to play. He plays tactically very well, using very well his slice, then playing aggressive, changing rhythms on the points.”
Before his first match in California, Nadal withdrew from the hard-court event at Miami, which begins March 21. He turns 36 in June and is dealing with chronic pain in his left foot and tendinitis in both knees.
“I cannot make drastic changes like I did in the past,” he said, “so that’s why I decided to stop after here and to have three weeks before the clay court season starts for me.”
Nadal survived a scare in his first match against Sebastian Korda. The 21-year-old American served for the match leading 5-2 and 5-4 in the final set.
“It was very important that I can win these first two matches without playing fantastic, but today was a little bit better than the first day,” Nadal said.
Monfils reached the fourth round at Indian Wells for the fifth time in six years after his second career upset of a No. 1 player. He knocked out Nadal in the quarterfinals at Doha in 2009.
“I just felt good today,” Monfils said. “Tactically, I was good. I’m full of confidence.”
Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz defeated countryman and 15th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-0 and next plays Monfils.
Reilly Opelka beat 13th-seeded Denis Shapovalov 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4 to set up a fourth-round match against Nadal. The 24-year-old American is coming off two straight finals appearances that went to tiebreakers in both sets. He won at Dallas and lost at Delray Beach, Florida.
Jenson Brooksby defeated No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.
In women’s action, No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit lost to Marketa Vondrousova 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (5). Defending champion Paula Badosa beat Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-6 (4), 6-1. No. 6 seed Maria Sakkari defeated Petra Kvitova 6-3, 6-0.
Two-time tournament winner Victoria Azarenka lost to Elena Rybakina 6-3, 6-4. Late in the match, Azarenka bent over at the service line and hung her head. The chair umpire came out to check on her and it appeared Azarenka was teary-eyed. She eventually regained her composure and finished out the match.
No. 20 Elise Mertens ended the run of Australian qualifier Daria Saville, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. No. 21 Veronika Kudermetova advanced when qualifier Marie Bouzkova retired with the Russian leading 6-4, 0-2.