Indian Wells: Djokovic, Nadal, Nishikori advance

If Nadal wins against Verdasco and Djokovic win against Philipp Kohlschreiber in both their third round matches, the duo will face each other in the semi-finals.

Novak Djokovic in action against Bjorn Fratangelo.   -  AP

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Gilles Muller.   -  AP

World number one Novak Djokovic booked his third round spot in the Indian Wells hard court tournament on Sunday, fending off Bjorn Fratangelo in three sets, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2. The defending two-time champ Djokovic has now won 12 consecutive matches in Indian Wells and is trying to become the first player in tournament history to claim five titles.

"I started awful," Djokovic said. "I just tried to win by using my experience and playing tougher in the key moments."

The reigning Australian Open champion Djokovic is hoping to use Indian Wells as a stepping stone as he seeks to win his first French Open in two months and complete the career Grand Slam. Djokovic is coming off a year where he won 11 titles, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon, US Open. He lost in the final at the French Open.

"Obviously 2015 was a remarkable year," he said. "It will be a big challenge to repeat what I have done. Why not?"

Under windy conditions Sunday, Djokovic won 78 percent of his first serve points, made three double faults and had his serve broken three times, including twice in the first three games against Fratangelo. He returned the favour in the deciding third set by breaking world No. 149 Fratangelo in games one, five and seven and then capping of the match with his eighth ace.

"The fifth game in the third set was the deciding one," he said. "I played more aggressive."

Djokovic next faces German Philipp Kohlschreiber, who swept past Denis Kudla 6-0, 6-1.

Nadal fights back

World number five Rafael Nadal subdued Gilles Muller 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in the second round, overcoming swirling winds on the main stadium court. Nadal, the former three-time Indian Wells champion, moves on to face fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round of the hard court tournament, one of the biggest events on the ATP Tour calendar outside of the four Grand Slams.

The draw sets up a possible semi-final showdown between Djokovic and Nadal. They're nearly even in their 47 head-to-head meetings, with Djokovic owning a 24-23 edge.

Nishikori wins

Japanese star Kei Nishikori eased into the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin. The 26-year-old Nishikori, seeded fifth in his eighth appearance in Indian Wells, has never made it past the fourth round in the California desert.

“It is not easy playing the first match of any tournament,” Nishikori said. “But I felt comfortable today. So I hope I can go further than the last couple of years.”

Nishikori, who has been ranked as high as fourth in the world to become the highest ranked Asian player in ATP history, moves on to the third round where he will face either American Steve Johnson or Australia's John Millman.

Nishikori won 71 percent of his first serve points and broke Kukushkin's serve four times in the 70-minute match.

"The first couple of games are the most important," he said.

"I try not to hit too many crazy shots and get a good rhythm and if I feel good then go for shots and hit the ball a little harder," added Nishikori, who last month defended his ATP title at Memphis for the fourth consecutive year, extending his win streak at the event to 17 matches.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated French compatriot Vincent Millot 7-5, 6-1, Dominic Thiem beat Jozef Kovalik 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3) and Sam Querrey stopped Thiemo de Bakker 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.