After a sluggish few rounds Novak Djokovic stepped up his game Thursday blitzing Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the semifinals of the Indian Wells Tennis Masters Series.
“It’s definitely satisfying to play well,” said Djokovic. “This is something that we all want to do, and we all practise very hard each day in order to play as best as we can in the official matches. At this stage of the tournament it was important for me to stay mentally focused from the first to the last point.”
Djokovic has now won 10 straight matches on the tournament’s slow courts which the Serb says is suited to his game. With two titles who’s the argue? Novak will have a day off before his semifinal Saturday against surging John Isner who slipped past Gilles Simon 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.
In the bottom half, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are just one match from a blockbuster semifinal collision.
For the fourth time in as many events Federer has played, he’ll again meet Juan Martin Del Potro. Federer has owned Del Potro winning 10 of 12 including four straight, 3-0 this year. Even worse, Federer’s won nine consecutive sets against the big South American.
Del Potro did get tantalizingly close to that second set in Dubai (he led 6-2) a few weekends ago, but on a slower hardcourt a Federer should prevail – both DelPo’s wins came on faster courts at the US Open and London Indoors. Del Potro does have the power and ability to beat Federer, but between the ears I think there’s a significant blockage.
“I know him really well now,” Federer said. “He’s really coming back very strong, and he’s gonna be clearly, my opinion, in the top 10 at the end of the year, if not a whole lot higher. Now, I don’t know how much is gonna help him or me the slow conditions here at Indian Wells if we were to play against each other, because Dubai was extremely quick. It’s gonna be something you know, gonna present a different challenge to me. But I remember him playing well here in the past, and it’s gonna be a tough matchup, you know.”
Added Del Potro, “I think I felt closer in Dubai when I play against him. I had many chance to win the second set, and the third everything can happen. But when you miss easy balls or you don’t take the opportunities against the top players, you will lose.”
In addition to just playing Del Potro, another concern for Federer has been his health. Like many other players Federer’s also been stricken by the flu bug that’s hit the tournament. The Swiss does say he’s getting better, but it sounds like an issue.
“I’m feeling a whole lot better, and I hope with the day off I will be at 100%,” Federer said Wednesday. “But it’s been a difficult week. I’ve hardly practiced. I’ve only played matches. I think today in a baseline match it kind of showed a bit.
It’s taken some time to for me to get better, to be honest. I thought I would see quicker improvements, but still hurting a bit.
But at least I don’t have sort of massive headache and aches and pains anymore. That’s all gone now.”
Aches and pains? Massive headaches? It’s amazing he’s made it this far! That said, this match will be played under the sun, so any lingering illness Federer’s suffering will only be magnified.
In the second quarter, Nadal will be the heavy favorite against the resurgent David Nalbandian. The Argentine advanced to the quarterfinals when Tsonga all but choked trying to serve out the match in the second set against David on Wednesday.
Nalbandian does have the game and talent to beat Nadal, as evidenced by his two wins over Rafa, but at age 30 and well off his peak form it’s tough to see any chance for an upset here. Nadal, who interestingly got the first of his three wins over Nalbandian at Indian Wells saving five matchpoints in 2009, has looked like his dominant self all week. Through three matches he hasn’t lost a set nor his serve.
But the Spaniard remains weary of the Nalbandian threat.
“Always Nalbandian is a very tough player to play against with unbelievable talent,” Nadal said. “And he will have a day off tomorrow, so that give him a lot, my opinion. He’s this kind of player that when he’s playing well he’s the best players of the world. So gonna be a really, really difficult match for me, and I have to be ready for everything.”
Knowing this could be one of Nalbandian’s last real chances at a major win, might he bit “up” for this one?
In the women’s semifinals, pin-up pretties Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova meet in one semifinal, Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber in the other. Azarenka, winner of all 21 matches this year, is the clear favorite to win not just against the German but the event. and I think she will. Ivanovic has played well and I think she’ll be on top of Sharapova (???), but can she finish her off? I’m not so sure, it will be interesting.
“She’s definitely still has, same style, really aggressive, and sort of she goes for that first hit, and obviously big serve,” said Ivanovic who last played Sharapova in a 2008 Australian Open final loss. “That, I think, improved in her game, as well. It’s gonna be tough match. Obviously it’s very hard to say when you don’t actually feel the ball and we haven’t played in a long time so that’s something I’m gonna make adjustments once I’m on the court. I definitely want to focus on what I’m doing out there, and it’s very important probably also to expose her movement.”
ESPN2 has live coverage over Del Potro-Federer at 4pm ET. Tennis Channel will air the Nalbandian-Nadal quarterfinal at 6pm ET and the first women’s semifinal after.
FRIDAY INDIAN WELLS SCHEDULE
STADIUM 1 Start 11:00 am
 Liezel Huber (USA)/Lisa Raymond (USA) v Iveta Benesova (CZE)/Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
Not Before 1:00 PM
 Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG) v  Roger Federer (SUI)
Not Before 3:00 PM
David Nalbandian (ARG) v  Rafael Nadal (ESP)
Not Before 6:00 PM
 Victoria Azarenka (BLR) v  Angelique Kerber (GER)
Not Before 8:00 PM
 Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v  Maria Sharapova (RUS)
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