Rafael Nadal makes his long-awaited return to hardcourts on Saturday at the Indian Wells Masters 1000. The Spaniard who missed seven months of playing time to recover from a left knee injury, is back on cement for the first time in almost a year against hot-headed American Ryan Harrison tomorrow night.
“I feel very good. I’ve practised two times here,” Nadal said on Thursday. “But seriously, I understand my situation after seven months. I think it’s not the right moment to talk about the knee. I am here to try my best and that’s what I’m going to try. We’ll see how the knee responds on hard. The results on clay were positive, especially because the knee was feeling better and better every week, especially last week. Now I’m going to try here.”
Nadal and Harrison, who is 0-16 lifetime against Top 10 players, have never met before. Harrison played a good match against Federer on the same court in a 2011 night match.
After weeks of speculation as to his participation, Rafa confirmed his return to the desert over the weekend after crushing countryman David Ferrer to win Acapulco. And Nadal has fared well at Indian Wells reaching the semifinals or better the last seven years including titles in 2007 and 2009.
Rival Roger Federer knows a thing or four about winning at Indian Wells. The Swiss has four crowns and he enters as the defending champion. But Federer hasn’t won a title of any kind since Cincinnati last summer.
Federer will meet Denis Istomin in his opener.
Also on Saturday, John Isner meets former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, David Ferrer faces Kevin Anderson, Bernard Tomic takes on Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych and Gilles Simon are also in action in second round play.
For the women, the new wave of American teens are all in second round play: Sloane Stephens (v. U Radwanska), Madison Keys (v. Sam Stosur) and Taylor Townsend (v. Ana Ivanovic).
The last two women’s champions, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, are also scheduled.
Earlier today, it was a mixed afternoon for Americans. Steve Johnson and Christina McHale both blew set leads to lose on Stadium 1. Jack Sock had a matchpoint in his 3-set loss to Ivo Karlovic while former finalist James Blake was an impressive winner. Qualifier Mallory Burdette of Stanford also got through.
2006 champion Maria Sharapova paced the top women in the third round. Joining the Russian in the win column were Aga Radwanska, Sara Errani, Marion Bartoli and Petra Kvitova who needed three sets to turn away Olga Govortsova.
The tournament’s billionaire owner Larry Ellison also announced an expansion in a groundbreaking event attended by Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Azarenka.
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
[WC] M Keys (USA) vs  S Stosur (AUS) – WTA
 J Isner (USA) vs L Hewitt (AUS) – ATP
D Istomin (UZB) vs  R Federer (SUI) – ATP
Not Before 4:30 PM
 V Azarenka (BLR) vs D Hantuchova (SVK) – WTA
Not Before 7:00 PM
 R Nadal (ESP) vs R Harrison (USA) – ATP
Not Before 8:30 PM
U Radwanska (POL) vs  S Stephens (USA) – WTA
STADIUM 2 start 11:00 am
K Anderson (RSA) vs  D Ferrer (ESP) – ATP
 J Janowicz (POL) vs D Nalbandian (ARG) – ATP
 A Ivanovic (SRB) vs [WC] T Townsend (USA) – WTA
B Tomic (AUS) vs  R Gasquet (FRA) – ATP
 T Berdych (CZE) vs [Q] M Zverev (GER) – ATP
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