On a picturesque Thursday in Tennis Paradise, all players remaining at the Oracle Challenger Series Indian Wells took to the courts with quarterfinal berths on the line. Of the final eight players competing for the title, a staggering seven are Americans.
After a shocking performance on Tuesday defeating No.2 seed Lucas Pouille in the second round, American Noah Rubin backed up his fine play with another emphatic win over fellow compatriot Raymond Sarmiento to keep his hopes alive for the final Road to Indian Wells BNP Paribas Open wild card. In less than an hour, the former Wake Forest standout defeated the former USC Trojan 6-3, 6-1 to earn the first spot in the men’s quarterfinals.
Rubin was especially effective on Sarmiento’s serve, winning half of his return points while taking care of his own service games.
Rubin will next face fellow countryman Steve Johnson, who downed Taro Daniel of Japan 7-6(3), 6-2 in the early afternoon on Court 3 to book his own quarterfinal berth. Johnson has now reached his second consecutive Oracle Challenger Series quarterfinal after doing the same in January at Newport Beach. The World No. 75 is one of the highest ranked remaining players in the field, and will look to showcase why has four career ATP Tour titles to his name.
The American victories continued to roll into the afternoon, as former World No. 8 and three-time Grand Slam doubles champion Jack Sock took on tournament No. 13 seed Evgeny Donskoy. Sock pulled off his second consecutive upset in the desert, as he followed up his victory over World No. 43 Ugo Humbert with a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3) triumph on Thursday. What a week it’s shaping up to be for the American, who has an opportunity to capture his first career Oracle Challenger Series title.
He’ll next face American Dennis Kudla, who shocked No. 6 seed and one of the ATP’s most promising young stars in Jannik Sinner. Kudla came out with steely resolution, saving all five of the break points against him and converting both of his opportunities on the Italian’s serve in the first set. After dropping the second in a tight tiebreaker, Kudla regrouped, rallied and rolled to the quarterfinals 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2.
18-year-old Brandon Nakashima made it another third round victory for the Americans, as the Southern California native who began last September at No. 942 in the ATP Tour Rankings and now sits at a career-high of No. 290, continued to showcase why many tennis pundits have pegged him as a future star in the sport. Taking on his toughest Oracle Challenger Series opponent to date, No. 10 seed Salvatore Caruso, the American youngster made quick work of Caruso in a 6-4, 6-3 straight-set victory.
With a semifinal spot on the line, Nakashima will take on No. 14 seed Marcos Giron, who defeated Italian Roberto Marcora 7-6(4), 6-1.
Later in the day on Court 3, an intriguing No. 8 vs No. 9 seed matchup featuring Frances Tiafoe and Gregoire Barrere took place in front of one of the biggest crowds throughout the entire tournament thus far. Tiafoe was unable to replicate the earlier American success, and fell to the Frenchman in a hard-fought 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4) thriller. Barrere fired off an impressive nine aces, and overpowered the American to book his spot in the quarterfinal.
Barrere’s opponent will be Mitchell Krueger, who is still in the hunt for the final Oracle Challenger Series wild card into the BNP Paribas Open. In his first two matches, Krueger dropped the first sets 0-6 before regrouping and winning. Today against doubles partner Sebastian Korda, however, the Texan meant business. In under an hour, he broke Korda five times and didn’t drop serve once to win 6-2, 6-1.