Defending champion Rafael Nadal is back in Indian Wells, where he will look to retain the BNP Paribas Open title he won last year. The first match of his 2014 campaign will be against Radek Stepanek, with the Nadal vs Stepanek head to head standing at 6-0.
The top ranked Rafael Nadal is coming off a fantastic week at the inaugural Rio Open, where he won his 62nd career title, with a victory over Alexandr Dolgopolov in the final. It marked Rafa’s first tournament back since the Australian Open, where he sustained a back injury ahead of the final against Staniaslas Wawrinka. He would go on to lose that final to the Swiss No. 1 in four sets. A few weeks later, the Spaniard withdrew from the Copa Claro, citing a viral illness that interrupted his preparation for the upcoming clay court season.
Now Nadal is back on the hard courts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where he is the reigning and defending champion. Faced with a tough draw at this year’s event, the Spaniard will begin his campaign against Czech No. 2 Radek Stepanek and has potential clashes with Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic before he can retain his title.
Czech No. 2 Radek Stepanek reached the second round of the BNP Paribas Open with a three set victory over Denis Istomin on Thursday afternoon. Stepanek stormed to a 5-0 lead in the opening set, before serving it out at 6-1. He would lose focus in the second set, allowing Istomin to level the match with a 6-3 score, before Stepanek cranked up the pressure once again for a 6-1 victory in the third. Stepanek is coming off a second round exit in Dubai to Roger Federer, where he took the eventual champion to a third set and will need similar resolve if he is to have any chance of toppling the defending champion.
This marks the seventh time Nadal and Stepanek will meet on the professional tour. Stepanek is yet to defeat the world No. 1 and has only ever taken a set in two of the six encounters – neither of which took place on a hard court. They have only met twice on hard courts, with their most recent one being a 6-2, 6-2 win at the Miami Masters in 2012. Tomorrow’s match-up will likely yield similar results for Nadal, who will be looking for an emphatic start to his 2014 campaign.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in Straight Sets