Nadal improves to 18-0 with win over Opelka at Indian Wells

BNP Paribas Open - Day 10
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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Nursing a nagging foot injury, Rafael Nadal improved to 18-0 this season, edging Reilly Opelka 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open.

“I can’t say it’s a dream because I even couldn’t dream about that three months ago, two months ago,” Nadal said. “I am just enjoying every single moment.”

Last year, Nadal’s playing time was interrupted by COVID-19 and injuries, creating doubt about the Spanish star’s ability to recover well enough to maintain his exacting standards. But he won his record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January and has continued on a tear.

“I am just very happy to be playing tennis,” said Nadal, who turns 36 in June. “Today was a little bit worse than other days. It’s true that the last couple of days the foot has been bothering me a little bit more.”

Nadal has already withdrawn from the Miami Open that follows Indian Wells. He wants extra time to prepare for the clay court season that isn’t as punishing as hard courts.

Nadal rallied from a 2-4 deficit in the second set to lead 6-5. Opelka held after three deuces when Nadal netted a forehand chasing the American’s drop shot to force the second tiebreaker.

Nadal led 4-1 in the tiebreaker when Opelka struggled on his service returns. On his serve, though, the 6-foot-11 American closed to 4-3, hitting winners on a drop shot and a forehand.

Again on his serve, Opelka closed to 6-5.

But Nadal closed it out by pulling Opelka out of the court and the American’s backhand landed wide.

“It’s about trying to hit balls that you don’t take a lot of risks, but at the same time don’t allow him to go in and go for the shot,” Nadal said. “Is trying to find the right balance between these two things.”

There were no service breaks in the first set. Opelka fought off the only break point in the seventh game with a smash and forehand winner. Nadal held at love for 6-all, forcing the tiebreaker. Opelka led 3-2 with a forehand winner down the line. Nadal won the next five points, all on errors by Opelka, to take the set.

Nadal improved to 19-0 against American opponents since losing to John Isner at the 2017 Laver Cup.

Nadal, a three-time champion in the desert, advanced to the quarterfinals against wild-card Nick Kyrgios. The Australian advanced to his first ATP Tour quarterfinal since winning Washington in 2019 after 10th-seeded Jannik Sinner withdrew because of illness.

Taylor Fritz fired 14 aces in outlasting Alex de Minaur, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5).

“I have more confidence in my shot, so when it comes crunch time, I feel like I can kind of trust what I want to do, trust my game,” said Fritz, who reached the semifinals at Indian Wells last year.

Fritz next plays Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia in the quarterfinals. Kecmanovic overcame 14 aces by No. 6 seed Matteo Berrettini in a 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory.

Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria beat Isner, 6-3, 7-6 (6) and next plays No. 7 Audrey Rublev, who defeated Hubert Hurkacz, 7-6 (5), 6-4. Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz beat Gael Monfils, 7-5 6-1. He’ll play a quarterfinal against defending champion Cameron Norrie, who defeated Jenson Brooksby, 6-2, 6-4.

In women’s play, No. 3 Iga Swiatek routed Madison Keys 6-1, 6-0 in under an hour to reach the semifinals. Simona Halep advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Petra Martic. Halep won at Indian Wells in 2015 for her biggest hardcourt title to date.

Alycia Parks reaches 1st WTA quarterfinal in Ostrava

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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — American qualifier Alycia Parks is having quite the breakthrough tournament in Ostrava.

The 21-year-old Parks earned her first win against a top-10 ranked opponent by beating fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 at the Agel Open on Thursday to reach her first WTA Tour quarterfinal.

The 144th-ranked Parks ousted former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in the opening round – her first win against a top-20 opponent – and showed off her power by hitting 59 winners against Sakkari, compared to just nine for her opponent.

“I came out here not expecting anything, just playing my game, and it got me through the match,” Parks said.

Parks will next face former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced via walkover when Belinda Bencic withdrew with a left foot injury.

Caty McNally, another American qualifier who is playing doubles with Parks in Ostrava, also reached the last eight by beating wild-card entry Karolina Muchova 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. McNally is also into her first WTA quarterfinal and will face top-ranked Iga Swiatek, who advanced Wednesday.

Djokovic beats Van de Zandschulp to reach Astana quarters

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ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Add Botic van de Zandschulp to the long list of players to have been schooled by Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic eased past Van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday in his first career meeting with the 27-year-old Dutchman to reach the quarterfinals of the Astana Open.

Van de Zandschulp earned one break point in each set but couldn’t seriously threaten Djokovic, who is looking for a second straight indoor hardcourt title after winning in Tel Aviv last week.

“(In the) second set I think I started to read his serve better and just started swinging through the court more,” Djokovic said. “Botic is a quality tennis player. When he has time, he can hurt you, so I tried to take away that time from him and I’m very pleased with the way I played, particularly in the second.”

Djokovic will next face Karen Khachanov, who rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. If the 21-time Grand Slam champion gets past that one, he could come up against fellow former No. 1 Daniil Medvedev. The second-seeded Russian beat Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland 6-3, 6-2 to move one match away from a potential rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final, when Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny his attempt at a calendar-year Grand Slam.

Medvedev will first have to beat Roberto Bautista Agut, who advanced Wednesday.