INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal became the second player in ATP Tour history to start a season 18-0, edging Reilly Opelka 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5) on Wednesday in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open.
Only Novak Djokovic has gotten off to better starts since 1990. The Serb went 26-0 to begin 2020 and 41-0 to open 2011.
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.
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).
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 beats Isner, 6-3, 7-6 (6).