Rafael Nadal can complete a stunning return to the hard courts by claiming a third title in Indian Wells if he can get past Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
“It’s very, very difficult to imagine something like this,” Nadal said, according to the New York Times. “But here we are today and very happy about all what happened the last month, especially last three weeks.”
After beginning his comeback from a seven month layoff with a knee injury on clay, this is the first tournament Nadal has played on the more demanding hard-court surface in almost a year. Having beaten Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, the fifth seed then took out Tomas Berdych in the last four in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
But standing in the Spaniard’s path of capping his fine comeback is a man looking to complete a rare hat-trick of consecutive wins over Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Nadal. Del Potro has looked back to the level that saw him claim the US Open title in 2009 and produced a stunning fight back in the semifinals to end world No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s 22-match winning streak with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Nadal has won the last three meetings between the pair, since Del Potro’s win at Flushing Meadows in 2009, and holds a 7-3 overall edge. On hard courts Del Potro has fared better, having split their six matches.
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Earlier in the day the women’s final will also take place with second seed Maria Sharapova taking on Caroline Wozniacki, seeded eighth. Like Del Potro, Wozniacki has also been showing signs of a renaissance this week.
The former world No. 1 is in her first final of a top level tour event since Indian Wells two years ago. Looking down and out against Angelique Kerber in the semifinals, Wozniacki upped her game dramatically to pull out a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 win in over two-and-a-half hours.
In the final, Sharapova is likely to pose a huge test, though, with the Russian having progressed through the draw without the loss of a set. It looks set to be a classic matchup of Sharapova’s offensive weapons against Wozniacki’s solid defense. In their five previous meetings Sharapova has held the edge, winning four times.
Where to watch: The women’s final of the BNP Paribas Open will take place at 3 p.m. ET, with the men’s final set to follow not before 5 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.