The fifth seed and three-time champion Rafael Nadal set up the prospect of an Australian Open final replay with Roger Federer at Indian Wells after cruising past Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-5 on Tuesday.
A succession of trademark crisp, powerful forehands from the 30-year-old immediately put Verdasco on the back foot, and when Rafa applied pressure he gained the crucial break.
Another near-perfect service game from Rafa wrapped up the set in 31 minutes, but the second was far from comfortable as Verdasco rallied.
Errors began to creep into Rafa’s game, too many shots dropping into the net which gave Verdasco confidence – even though he continued to complain about glare off the stands at one end.
However, that drained away late on as a costly double fault gave Rafa the chance to serve for the match, an opportunity he duly took to record a 16th win over Verdasco in 19 meetings.
A clash with Federer awaits Rafa in round four, but only if the Swiss can overcome big-serving American Steve Johnson later on Tuesday.