The Future Is Now In Indian Wells
When the BNP Paribas Open draw was released on Wednesday, jaws plummeted to the floor at the sight of the star power in the bottom quarter.
Novak Djokovic could set a rematch against Juan Martin del Potro in the third round and Roger Federer has longtime rival Rafael Nadal in his sights in the fourth round. But perhaps the most intriguing match-up is the under-the-radar clash between Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev, set for Tuesday in Indian Wells.
Youth will be served when the two youngest players in the Top 20 of the Emirates ATP Rankings lock horns for the first time at the professional level. Kyrgios took their lone encounter in the juniors 6-3, 6-1 on the grass of Roehampton, England, in 2013.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Kyrgios. "We have been obviously close mates for a long time. I played juniors with him. I played him once in juniors and I thought he had a big game then. He's obviously put it together now. He's had some great results and beaten some big names.
"I know it's going to be tough, especially on this surface. If he plays his aggressive game, it's not going to be easy to get looks on his serve, and it's the same for me. If I go out there and play my style of tennis and I lose, I won't be surprised. But if I win, I won't be surprised as well."
Brash bashers from the baseline, 21-year-old Kyrgios and 19-year-old Zverev are two of the hottest rising talents on the ATP World Tour, soaring up the Emirates ATP Rankings to the Top 20 in the past year. Both players exude confident and stong personalities on and off the court and are fast becoming fan favourites. It is undoubtedly their first of many FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters, with their career trajectories pointing skyward.
"I will be very excited, because I think we are the two young guys talked about the most, with Dominic Thiem," Zverev said to the assembled media at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Sunday. "It will be a very exciting match, because he's played well this year and I've played well this year too. We'll see."
Kyrgios, seeded 15th, opened his BNP Paribas Open campaign with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Horacio Zeballos on Sunday afternoon, while 18th-seed Zverev kicked off his bid with a win over another Argentine, downing Facundo Bagnis 7-6(10), 6-3.
Following a breakout run to the fourth round last year, Zverev is hungry to go one step further. The German came up just short to Rafael Nadal in a three-set thriller, falling despite holding a match point. He was one missed volley from becoming the youngest quarter-finalist in Indian Wells since Michael Chang and Andre Agassi in 1989.
"I don't want to say I can be the champion by the end of the next week, but I feel I can play great tennis and I can beat anybody," Zverev added. "I have the toughest quarter of the draw and I have a feeling the champion will come out of this section. The next few rounds will be very, very difficult for all us."
With a Round of 16 blockbuster against either Djokovic or Del Potro at stake, expect plenty of fireworks on Tuesday in the southern California desert.