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BNP Paribas Open Preview: Isner & Johnson Remain

BNP Paribas Open Preview: Isner & Johnson Remain
Photo: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
By Eli Scandalis

After the weekend, two former collegiate men remain in the BNP Paribas main draw: Steve Johnson of USC and John Isner of Georgia. With most of the top-ranked players in Indian Wells, it's only a matter of time before you get matched up with a higher seed, and both our remaining former collegiate players are in for battles. Let's take a look at their upcoming matchups:

Isner (20) (UGA) vs. Monfils (10)
Headlining the evening session Monday night, John Isner will take on a familiar opponent in Gael Monfils. They've played each other eight times over their careers, splitting them evenly. After the bye, the world No. 11 Monfils got off to a slow start against qualifier Darian King, dropping the first set. He was able to right the ship in the second and third, winning in three sets. Isner advanced in straight sets against Kukushkin, in a match that saw tiebreakers decide each set. Isner served well, not facing a break point but also did not have any break opportunities of his own.

Making use of his athleticism and trick shots, the electric Monfils should put on a show under the lights. The match is being played at night, rather than during the hot and dry day session. This should give the Frenchman an edge. The court conditions at night are much slower, which will slow down Isner's serve and allow Monfils to see better return opportunities. I still would expect to see at least one, if not two, tiebreakers in their showdown Monday. Both Isner and Monfils play tiebreakers extremely well, usually ending the season in the top 10 in win percentage.

This should be a fantastic match with Isner's serve showing up in the clutch and being a little too much to handle for Monfils. Isner plays well in the desert, has the crowd behind him, and will get the better of Monfils, winning in three sets. The winner of this match will face Mischa Zverev or Dominic Thiem for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Johnson (24) (USC) vs. Federer (9)
In his first match after the bye, former USC Trojan Steve Johnson took on former University of Illinois All-American Kevin Anderson. The match between Johnson and Anderson was a two-hour clash, Johnson finally took the third set in a tiebreak. The 24th-seeded Johnson will now face the No. 9 seed, Roger Federer. In their one previous matchup at Wimbledon last year, Federer won in straight sets.

Federer cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory Sunday in his opening match against journeyman Stephane Robert. Federer looked sharp playing his first match since he was upset in Dubai. Johnson is ranked in the top 30 and should be a much tougher test than Robert. Johnson's serve will be important, but it could be his serve return that determines if he has a chance in the match. If he is unable to create opportunities against Federer's serve, it will put more pressure on his own serve and allow Federer to step inside the baseline and play more aggressively.

Look for Federer to open up the court with crosscourt forehands and then approach to Johnson's backhand, which he prefers to slice and is weaker than his forehand. There could be a tiebreak set, but Federer should advance relatively easily in straight sets. The "Quarter of Death" lives up to its name, as the winner of this match will likely face Rafael Nadal for a spot in the quarterfinals.
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