Andrey Rublev, on a 10-match winning tear, is the hottest ATP Tour player this side of Rafael Nadal. The Russian has already won titles in Dubai and Marseille and began his run at the BNP Paribas Open with a routine, straight-sets win over Dominik Koepfer.
His opponent in Tuesday’s third round is Frances Tiafoe – at first glance, a player looking desperately to create some momentum. The American started his season with a five-set win over Marco Trungelliti in the first round of the Australian Open, but it was nearly two months before he collected his second victory. That came in the Indian Wells second round, 6-4, 6-4, against compatriot Brandon Nakashima.
Tiafoe, who has been plagued by an elbow injury, can take heart, for history is on his side. The one time he met Rublev, the result was a scintillating victory in five sets in the third round of last year’s US Open. This matchup of talented 24-year-olds could be the gem of the eight third-round matches from the bottom-half of the draw.
No. 7-seeded Rublev and No. 6 Matteo Berrettini are the highest seeds left in the bracket, leaving things very wide open to suggestion. Steve Johnson is the lowest-ranked player left, at No. 115, and the only one outside the top 100.
Johnson is one of five Americans still in play in the bottom half of the draw. There are seven U.S. players left in the third round, the most in Indian Wells since the event expanded to a 96-player draw in 2004. Previously, there were seven Americans in the third round in 1994 when the draw was 56.
Johnson draws the tough assignment of No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz, who happens to be the defending Miami Open champion. Hurkacz needed three sets to get past Oscar Otte in the second round, while Johnson upset No. 22 seed Aslan Karatsev 7-6(5), 6-4. They’ve met once before, with Hurkacz taking the 2019 round of 16 match at Eastbourne in straight sets.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old American Tommy Paul scored the biggest upset of the second round, taking down No. 3 Alexander Zverev in a taut third-set tiebreaker. His opponent is No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur, an Australian who had a strong round of 16 performance at this year’s Australian Open. The two have never played.
“For sure, I think just my level as a player has gone up,” said Fritz after his straight-sets win over Kamil Majchrzak in the second round. “I think I’ve gone up several levels. I think I’m a way better player than I was when I was here last year, and I think I’ve improved a lot.
“So, yeah, I expect a lot more of myself. My goal is to move into the Top 10. So, I definitely have a lot higher expectations.”
The last American in action is No. 23 John Isner, who will face No. 14 seed Diego Schwartzman. It’s a study of size versus speed, with the 6-foot-11 Isner enjoying a 16-inch advantage over the speedy Argentine. Isner prevailed in their only previous meeting – at the 2017 Rolex Paris Masters – but that one went three sets and featured two tiebreakers.
Berrettini meets No. 30 Lloyd Harris for the second time, following a 2020 second-round win at Roland Garros. The World No. 6 needed three sets to get past Danish teenager Holger Rune, while Harris also went the distance before prevailing over Facundo Bagnis.
Berrettini had only won one main-draw match in three main-draw appearances in Indian Wells prior to this year, and the five-time ATP Tour titlist acknowledged the challenge the conditions in the California desert pose after his victory over Rune.
“It’s always tricky,” said the Italian. “I would say the toughest part about playing here, sometimes you feel like also the balls get really big, but at the beginning they’re really fast. It’s tricky to control this kind of stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t get the spin that you want, sometimes the ball is flying, sometimes too much spin.
“You have to have a good touch, a good feeling. Of course, the more you play, the more you’re going to get used to it.”
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No. 31 Alexander Bublik takes on No. 33 Grigor Dimitrov. Bublik holds a 2-1 head-to-head edge but Dimitrov won their most recent meeting, in straight sets at last year’s ATP Masters 1000 in Cincinnati.
Finally, one of these players – Miomir Kecmanovic or Botic van de Zandschulp – is going to find himself in the Round of 16. Kecmanovic, who finished 2016 as the World No. 1 junior, ahead of Stefanos Tsitsipas, is ranked No. 61. Van de Zandschulp, who qualified last year at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and US Open and played Wimbledon as a lucky loser, is No. 47.
The Dutchman upset ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in a three-hour, 16-minute marathon in the second round on Sunday, staying calm to take the deciding set after missing three match-point chances in the second. He will look to retain the same composure against Kecmanovic on Tuesday.
“Of course you are a little bit frustrated if you have match points in the second set,” said van de Zandschulp after the win over Auger-Aliassime. “It’s not like I missed any shots but he played some great points. Then it’s a little bit easier to deal with than when you’re missing chances. I thought I was playing well and that’s how I continued in the third.”
SCHEDULE – TUESDAY, MARCH 15, 2022
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
WTA –  S. Cirstea (ROU) vs  S. Halep (ROU)
WTA –  I. Swiatek (POL) vs  A. Kerber (GER)
ATP –  D. Schwartzman (ARG) vs  J. Isner (USA)
STADIUM 2 start 11:00 am
ATP –  M. Berrettini (ITA) vs  L. Harris (RSA)
ATP – [Q] J. Munar (ESP) vs  T. Fritz (USA)
Not Before 3:00 PM
WTA –  M. Sakkari (GRE) vs [Q] D. Saville (AUS)
Not Before 6:00 pm
ATP –  A. Bublik (KAZ) vs  G. Dimitrov (BUL)
Not Before 8:00 PM
WTA –  V. Kudermetova vs  M. Vondrousova (CZE)
STADIUM 3 start 11:00 am
ATP – M. Kecmanovic (SRB) vs B. van de Zandschulp (NED)
ATP –  A. de Minaur (AUS) vs T. Paul (USA)
WTA – [Q] H. Dart (GBR) vs  M. Keys (USA)
Not Before 5:00 pm
ATP – [WC] S. Johnson (USA) vs  H. Hurkacz (POL)
WTA –  E. Rybakina (KAZ) vs  V. Golubic (SUI)
STADIUM 4 start 11:00 am
WTA – P. Martic (CRO) vs  L. Samsonova
WTA – I. Begu (ROU) / M. Niculescu (ROU) vs  G. Dabrowski (CAN) / G. Olmos (MEX)
ATP – R. Bopanna (IND) / D. Shapovalov (CAN) vs [PR] S. Gonzalez (MEX) / E. Roger-Vasselin (FRA)
WTA –  C. Dolehide (USA) / S. Sanders (AUS) vs Y. Xu (CHN) / Z. Yang (CHN)