Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer clash for the 36th time when they face off in a blockbuster fourth round showdown at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday at Indian Wells.
Ever since the notorious ‘quarter of death’ was drawn over a week ago, everyone was fixated on a couple of particular match-ups. One was Novak Djokovic vs Juan Martin del Potro in the third round, which did indeed transpire, with the Serbian winning in three sets on Tuesday night. The other was Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer in the Round of 16, and that too will happen as both legends successfully navigated their way through to the fourth round without dropping a set. It will be the earliest meeting at a tournament between the pair since Nadal and Federer played for the very first time at the Miami Open in 2004. It will also be their second meeting this year after Federer claimed his 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open in a thrilling five-set contest. Who will win episode No. 36 when two of the sport’s legends collide once more in the Californian desert?
After suffering from illness just prior to the BNP Paribas Open launching, Nadal has been efficient and effective in securing his spot in the Round of 16, conquering Guido Pella 6-3 6-2 and the dangerous Fernando Verdasco 6-3 7-5 in the hot Coachella Valley sun on Tuesday. Nadal, who has won three Indian Wells titles, improved to a 16-3 record against Verdasco, continually building pressure on his compatriot until he finally folded towards the end of the encounter.
“I played a good match, no? Very aggressive with my serve, serving well, hitting good forehands, good backhands. Very happy. I think I played much better today than the first day,” Nadal said. “So very pleased with my performance.”
Federer, by contrast, had a much tougher time of it in his third round triumph - especially after his swift and routine victory over Stephane Robert in his Indian Wells opener. Federer, a four-time BNP Paribas Open champion, failed to break the serve of Steve Johnson but was able to win the crucial points when it mattered, emerging a 7-6(3) 7-6(4) winner in one hour and 34 minutes.
While he struggled to make inroads on the Johnson serve, Federer was clinical behind his own delivery, relinquishing just six points behind his first delivery. With two runner-up finishes at Indian Wells in his previous two visits in 2014 and 2015 (he missed 2016 through injury), Federer is relishing the chance to renew his long rivalry with Nadal in the fourth round.
“That's why I came here, to play against guys like Rafa. Now we have it,” Federer said. “I'm going to be excited now, I’d better be excited now otherwise I came for the wrong reasons.”
Roger Federer (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
“I try to see it really as another opportunity to build upon something for the rest of the season. So regardless of Australia, winning or losing, I'm going to try to go out there and try to play free again. I think it's really important.
“I'm really happy that I got my energy back, because in Dubai I was actually still quite tired. I feel like tomorrow if I move well I will definitely have a chance against Rafa.”
Both Federer and Nadal came into Indian Wells after disappointing first tournaments since competing in the Australian Open final in January. Federer, as he mentioned in the earlier quote, was quite rusty in falling to qualifier Evgeny Donskoy at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, while Nadal suffered a painful straight sets loss to Sam Querrey in the Acapulco final - his first ever defeat in the Mexican city. And now one of them will fall victim to an early exit at Indian Wells.
Nadal owns a well-documented 23-12 record over Federer, but lately it’s been the Swiss who’s held the upper hand, while their H2H on hardcourts stands at a relatively even 9-8 in Nadal’s favour. Federer is actually attempting to defeat Nadal three straight times for the first time in his career, having also won their Basel final in addition to January’s Australian Open showdown. This will be their 17th clash at Masters 1000 level (Nadal leads 12-4), while the pair have split victories at Indian Wells, with Federer winning in the 2012 semi-finals and Nadal prevailing in the 2013 quarters. On both occasions the winner went on to capture the title. The winner this time will go on to face either Novak Djokovic or Nick Kyrgios in the last eight.
I’m leaning on the edge of Nadal to come away with the win. The Australian Open final was epic for Federer, but he was forced to produce spectacular and special tennis when in trouble in the fifth set to get the job done. The match-up issues for Federer suddenly don’t disappear after one big win, while the slower courts in Indian Wells also give Nadal another advantage. Both haven’t really returned to their Australian Open form since contesting the final, but I think all things considered, Nadal starts the favourite here.