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'Solid' Nadal powers ahead at Indian Wells

Rafael Nadal plays a backhand volley against Guido Pella in their second round match at the Indian Wells on March 12. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP Indian Wells, CA, United States Mar 13, 2017, 12.42 AM (IST)

A "solid" effort saw three-time champion Rafael Nadal safely through to the third round of the ATP Indian Wells Masters on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Guido Pella.

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza battled past tenacious teenager Kayla Day 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 on Sunday to reach the fourth round of the Indian Wells WTA hard court tournament.

The seventh seed from Spain next faces Ukrainian 10th seed Elina Svitolina, a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Australian Daria Gavrilova.

Launching his campaign after a first-round bye, Nadal was happy to forego the fireworks on a blazing hot Stadium Court and secure a workmanlike win in one hour and 21 minutes.

"It was a solid match," Nadal said of a contest made trickier by facing another left-hander in heat that had the balls flying.

"I didn't try to do amazing things. I tried to play solid. I tried to find the rhythm, and I think I did. For moments I played well. For moments I played a little bit less well. Important thing, I won, and I won in straight sets." 

Pella seized the early initiative, breaking Nadal in the third game. But Nadal won six of the next seven games to pocket the set and go up a break to open the second.

Pella recouped the break in the second game of the second set, but Nadal regained the advantage with a break for 5-2 and calmly served it out.

He knows he'll have to turn up the intensity if he wants to end a hard court title drought stretching back to 2014.

He's drawn in the so-called "quarter of death" that also features second-seeded Novak Djokovic, the three-time defending champion and five-time overall Indian Wells winner, along with four-time champion Roger Federer.

Federer cemented his return from a 2016 disrupted by injury with a triumph over Nadal in the Australian Open final in January, the Swiss star's 18th Grand Slam title.

Djokovic, rocked by a second-round exit at the Australian Open, was to launch his bid for a fourth straight Indian Wells title against Britain's Kyle Edmund on Sunday, while Federer took on France's Stephane Robert in the marquee match of the night session.

Only one of the star trio can make it to the semi-finals, where fourth-seeded Kei Nishikori or sixth-seeded Marin Cilic could await.

Japan's Nishikori, a two-time finalist this year still looking for a first title of the season, eased past Britain's Daniel Evans 6-3, 6-4.

Nishikori had reason to know how dangerous the Briton could be. Evans shocked him four years ago in the first round of the US Open.

"I know he can play great tennis and when he was playing aggressively, he was very tough to play," Nishikori said. "But I think I managed really well from the first point until the end. I think it was a good start."

'That's sport'

The jam-packed half of the draw is a contrast to the wide-open top half, which lost a lot of its lustre on Saturday when world number one Andy Murray was stunned by 129th-ranked Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil.

"That's sport, no?" Nadal said. "Yesterday probably Andy didn't play his best match and Vasek served very well. So then you go to a tiebreak and anything can happen."

While Murray arrived in Indian Wells off a victory in Dubai, Nadal noted that the venue has not been kind to the Briton in the past and he expected Murray to be back at full strength for the fast-approaching Miami Masters.

"Sometimes you don't feel comfortable in one event, and it's difficult to overcome that," Nadal said, recalling his string of disappointments in Cincinnati before he managed a victory there. "When you have bad feelings in one event, sometimes it's difficult to overcome that."

(AFP)

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