This third round encounter could easily have been the final of any tournament, as world number 2 Novak Djokovic faced off against fan favorite Juan Martin del Potro at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California. Having overcome the resurgent Argentine 4-6 6-4 6-4 in the fourth round at Acapulco last month, Djokovic was looking to improve his record against del Potro. The two had met on 15 previous occasions, with Nole holding a commanding 12-3 lead. Both men always seem to bring out the best in each other however, and this match was no exception as Djokovic fought to claim the victory in three sets, 7-5 4-6 6-1.

The previous round saw Djokovic prevail against Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund 6-4 7-6(5), while del Potro saw off fellow countryman Federico Delbonis 7-6(5) 6-3. The Tower of Tandil, seeded 31; was looking to dethrone the five time and defending champion Djokovic. He came out strong in the first set and quickly broke the Serbian’s serve, although Novak did make some uncharacteristic errors. Djokovic soon found his groove and regained his composure to break back in the sixth game, mixing offense with some great counter-punching. He soon took the first set 7-5 in 51 minutes, although del Potro did falter towards the end and played some loose points.

The second set began in a similar fashion, with del Potro breaking the defending champions serve amidst some huge groundstrokes. Djokovic attempted to attack the Argentine’s backhand but it was to no avail as del Potro stood firm and used his slice effectively. He saved a break point in the fourth game, and then went on to consolidate his lead with a double break after Novak inexplicably missed an easy overhead. Djokovic did break right back to love the next game but it was too late as del Potro hit some huge serves to take the set 6-4 in 50 minutes.

It felt natural for this to go to a decider; as del Potro is always considered a threat regardless of who he’s playing. Injury and wrist surgeries had temporarily derailed his career, thus giving him a lower ranking and perhaps affecting his conditioning. Djokovic on the other hand showed no rust and quickly broke the Argentine in the fourth game. He displayed some great feel at the net and relentlessly attacked del Potro’s backhand, eventually securing the double break. He then went on to seal the match with a beautiful backhand down the line and progress to the fourth round in 2 hours 17 minutes.

“It was difficult to overcome this challenge tonight” Djokovic said post-match. “The third was some of the best tennis I’ve played this year” He is looking to defend his crown and played a very solid game, mixing excellent shot-making with deft touches at the net.

Djokovic’s next challenge? Australia’s Nick Kyrgios; who defeated Germany’s Alexander Zverev in straight sets 6-3 6-4 in what could be the battle for the future of tennis. Kyrgios surprisingly holds the lead over Djokovic, their only meeting occurring at Acapulco this year. Kyrgios won that quarterfinal encounter in straight sets 7-6(9) 7-5, and the bad boy of tennis is undoubtedly looking to extend his lead. Djokovic however is hungry for another title this season, having won in Doha in January and it will definitely be one to watch.

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