|Rafael Nadal has vehemently denied a doping allegation|
against him. File photo by Paul Bauman
He treats every match as if it was his last. The same goes for practice.
Still, Nadal had plenty of incentive today in the BNP Paribas Open. The 29-year-old star recently was accused of doping, and he was facing a player who ousted him in the first round of the Australian Open in January.
It added up to a 6-0, 7-6 (9) victory by Nadal, the fourth seed and three-time champion at Indian Wells, over fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco in the third round. Nadal saved five set points in the second-set tiebreaker.
The 32-year-old Verdasco, who reached a career-high No. 7 in the world in 2009 and won the now-defunct SAP Open in 2010 in San Jose, knocked off Nadal 7-6 (6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in a 4-hour, 41-minute baseline battle in Melbourne.
"I lost matches similar to this one in Australia, in Bueno Aires, in Rio de Janeiro, so it's important winning sets like this for me,” Nadal said. “I feel lucky to win the tiebreak, and at the same time I think at the end of the tiebreak I played well with not many mistakes and going for the points.
“So it is an important victory for me. Two match wins here, tough ones. That's something that stays in my mind and helps.”
Nadal is trying to regain his confidence amid a prolonged slump. He has lost in the third round or earlier in his past three Grand Slam tournaments, and the last of his 14 Grand Slam singles titles (tied for second all-time with Pete Sampras behind Roger Federer's 17) came in the 2014 French Open.
In the wake of Maria Sharapova's positive drug test, former French Minister for Health and Sport Roselyne Bachelot last week leveled a doping charge against Nadal.
"We know that Nadal's famous seven-month injury (layoff in 2012) was without a doubt due to a positive drug test," Bachelot said on French television. "When you see a tennis player who stops playing for (many) months, it is because he has tested positive and because they are covering it up. It is not something that always happens, but yes, it happens more than you think."
Nadal has heard similar allegations before.
"You know what? I heard a few times again about the doping, and I'm a little bit tired of that," responded Nadal, who this week vowed to sue Bachelot. "I am a completely clean guy. I work so much during all my career, and when I get an injury, I get an injury.
"And (I) never had no temptation of doing something wrong. I believe in the sport and in the values of the sport. It is an example for the kids. If I am doing something that goes against that, I will be lying to myself, not to my opponents."
Nadal will face 18-year-old Alexander Zverev, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) German, for the first time on Wednesday for a quarterfinal berth. Zverev, ranked 58th, dismantled Frenchman Gilles Simon, seeded 16th and ranked 19th, 6-2, 6-2 in 67 minutes.
“He’s a clear possible future No. 1,” Nadal said. “He’s an amazing player. He has all the shots and very good physical performance. He’s tall, has a good serve – first and second – great shots from the baseline, forehand and backhand.
“He has everything to become a big star, and he’s playing well. He already won matches against (Grigor) Dimitrov and Simon (this week). I know it’s going to be a very tough match. I’m happy the way I played today in the first set, so if I can keep going the same way tomorrow, I hope to have my chances.”
Top seed and two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic also advanced, beating 27th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 7-5, 7-5.
It was a rough day for players with Northern California ties, though.
No. 31 seed Sam Querrey, a San Francisco native living in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica, lost to No. 7 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-3, 6-4.
Qualifier Nicole Gibbs, who turned pro in 2013 after a stellar three years at Stanford, fell to No. 8 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was the first time Gibbs, 23, has won a set in her three matches against Kvitova.
In an all-American doubles quarterfinal, No. 8 seeds Raquel Atawo (formerly Kops-Jones) of San Jose and Abigail Spears of Colorado Springs, Colo., bowed out to unseeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands and CoCo Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-1.
Kvitova will play No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the singles quarterfinals. The other matchups are No. 1 Serena Williams vs. No. 5 and defending champion Simona Halep, No. 13 Victoria Azarenka against unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova and No. 18 Karolina Pliskova vs. unseeded 18-year-old Daria Kasatkina.
Williams withdrew from her scheduled semifinal against Halep in last year's BNP Paribas Open with a knee injury.