The marquee match of Tuesday turned out to be just that when the unpredictable Ernests Gulbis clashed with rising talent Grigor Dimitrov in the third round at Indian Wells.
The two had split two close meetings a month ago, and this match continued off that trend.
Dimitrov raced out to quick 6-2 first set, then the Gulbis onslaught took the second 6-2. The finale was nip-and-tuck, with Gulbis doing the most of the damage, and eventually the Latvian broke through at 5-5 behind a cracking backhand winner, then calmly served it out for a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 win.
In the fourth round tomorrow, Ernests meets Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut who ended Jarkko Neiminen’s run in a final set breaker.
Elsewhere, with Rafael Nadal out Novak Djokovic becomes the tournament favorite, though the Serb isn’t playing like it. After a patchy opening round win over Victor Hanescu, the two-time Indian Wells champion Djokovic needed three sets to oust little known Alejandro Gonzalez 6-1, 3-6, 6-1.
“It took me a little bit [of time] to get used to his game,” said Djokovic, a winner in 2008 and 2011. “But I thought I played really well from the start… Then suddenly I just had a big loss of concentration and allowed him to win the second set for no reason. [I] bounced back better in the third.”
Djokovic will need his concentration tomorrow against the red-hot Marin Cilic who continued his run – he’s reached the finals in three straight tournaments, winning two with a 16-1 record! – by hammering Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-3.
“I’ve played him several times on different surfaces. We haven’t played each other for quite a long time,” said Djokovic who’s beaten Cilic in all seven of their matches.
“He’s more aggressive,” said Djokovic. “He’s using his serve as a big advantage nowadays, and also I feel like he’s moving better on the court. I have been watching him playing some big matches. He won against [Andy] Murray in Rotterdam in straight sets. He can definitely can play. And not just play, I mean, he can win against top players. That’s why I do not even for a second underestimate him.
“I’m coming into the match knowing that I’m going to have to be playing on top of my game in order to win that match. I’m going to get myself ready for it.”
Fernando Verdasco pulled the (mild) upset of the day beating Richard Gasquet 7-6, 6-1. Fellow countryman Feliciano Lopez made in three Spaniard in the Rafa-less fourth round by knocking out Mikhail Kukushkin.
In late men’s matches, Juliean Benneteau bested the young talent Austrian Dominic Thiem and John Isner rolled Rendy Lu.
In the women’s fourth round, Agenieszka Radwanska took down Alize Cornet 7-5, 6-3. Jelena Jankovic thumped former champion and 2013 finalist Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-1.
Off her Maria Sharapova upset, Camila Giorgi had nothing for fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta who took the match over the qualifier 6-2, 6-1.
And in the match of the day featuring two future stars, Simona Halep handled Genie Bouchard 6-2, 1-6, 6-4.
“It wasn’t my best tennis today, but I was fighting a lot,” said Halep. “I did well. I think I came back in the third set very well. I was more relaxed than the second set because I was very nervous at that time.
“But everything I could I did today during the match, and I am really happy that I won because I know she’s a great player and she’s improving tournament by tournament.”
Li Na and Sloane Stephens were in late night action in the desert.
On a very busy Wednesday, all eight men’s fourth rounders are scheduled plus two women’s quarters (Halep v Dellacqua and Jankovic v Radwanska).
After a day off, Roger Federer and Andy Murray return. Federer faces friend and fellow 30+ Tommy Haas. Murray opens the day on Stadium 1 against Milos Raonic in a match of two guys still trying to make their way after injury.
Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka will both play twice tomorrow, first in singles then as a team in doubles against US Open champions Paes/Stepanek.
WEDNESDAY INDIAN WELLS SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 start 11:00 am
ATP –  M Raonic (CAN) vs  A Murray (GBR)
Not Before 1:00 pm
WTA –  S Halep (ROU) vs [Q] C Dellacqua (AUS)
ATP –  S Wawrinka (SUI) vs  K Anderson (RSA)
ATP –  T Haas (GER) vs  R Federer (SUI)
Not Before 7:00 pm
WTA –  J Jankovic (SRB) vs  A Radwanska (POL)
Not Before 8:30 pm
ATP –  M Cilic (CRO) vs  N Djokovic (SRB)
STADIUM 2 start 11:00 am
ATP –  A Dolgopolov (UKR) vs  F Fognini (ITA)
ATP –  E Gulbis (LAT) vs R Bautista Agut (ESP)
ATP –  F Verdasco (ESP) vs  J Isner (USA)
ATP – F Lopez (ESP) vs J Benneteau (FRA)
Not Before 5:00 pm
ATP –  B Bryan (USA) / M Bryan (USA) vs N Mahut (FRA) / J Tsonga (FRA)
ATP – R Federer (SUI) / S Wawrinka (SUI) vs  L Paes (IND) / R Stepanek (CZE)
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