INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – As Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime warmed up the legs inside the big stadium at the BNP Paribas Open, you could play a guessing game as to who his practice opponent would be.
The 19-year-old is keeping pretty good company these days.
His sparring partner for the day was … none other than Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, who won the ATP Tour event in Acapulco nearly two weeks ago, comes into the BNP Paribas Open with a semifinal result to defend, as he tries to stay close to Novak Djokovic in the race for No. 1.
He’s 170 points behind at the moment. But Djokovic, who is unbeaten so far this season and has been playing some supreme tennis, only reached the third round here a year ago.
So Djokovic has just 45 points to defend; Nadal has 360.
Here’s what they looked like as they went through their paces in a stadium that won’t be this empty for long.
Looking in mid-season form
Normally, a week out from a big tournament, and adjusting to new conditions, Nadal typically doesn’t look all that great on the practice court.
But he looked really good on Friday. As though he’d be ready to jump in tomorrow.
As for Auger-Aliassime, who had a great streak during the European indoor winter season, he travelled to Acapulco as planned.
He did beat Alex Bolt in the first round there, probably still running on adrenaline. But the reality of all the tennis – and the long trip, and the jet lag – caught up to him in the second round against a fit Kyle Edmund.
Auger-Aliassime did pretty well in the desert a year ago. He defeated Cameron Norrie and then Stefanos Tsitsipas before going down in a heartbreaker against Yoshihito Nishioka – a third-set tiebreak.
This will be his third trip to Indian Wells. As a 17-year-old in 2018, Auger-Aliassime won two matches in qualifying to make the main draw. He then defeated countryman and friend Vasek Pospisil in the first round of the main draw (harkening several meetings to come in the intervening years, as it turned out).
Another Canadian, Milos Raonic, defeated him in the second round. But he had made his big splash at a top-tier event.