It’s was billed as a must-see showdown but in the end it fell flat and fizzled as a visibly distressed Roger Federer was no match for the Spaniard falling 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals tonight at Indian Wells.
Both players admittedly came limping into this 29th meeting – Nadal has of course had his knee issues and Federer his back – but it was Roger’s that broke first. I thought going in that it would be Rafa’s knees that would break down from the long Gulbis match, but I was wrong.
When asked how his back felt and if he was underplaying the injury, Federer offered curtly after, “That was not the case against Stan either, but then I win and nobody talks about it,” he said. “If it was bothering me or not some moments that’s a problem for me to have, not for me to talk about too much because I don’t like to undermine his performance either.”
From the start Nadal just looked the better, sharper man out there and he was. Federer hardly muster any opposition from any facet of his game – service, groundstrokes, net – in the first set as Nadal just bombed away as he normally does from the baseline and breezed to a set lead behind two breaks.
It was that easy for Rafa.
Nadal quickly got two more breaks in the third and led 3-0 before Federer mounted a minor threat reclaiming a break. But it was little too late as Nadal finished him off not soon after.
“I played a fantastic first set, in my opinion. The second set was strange,” said Nadal. “The second set, I think Roger didn’t fight as usual. He probably had some problems and he didn’t feel enough comfortable to keep fighting. Both of us tried to play our best. I played much better than yesterday. My movements today were much, much better than yesterday, so I’m very happy for that, especially after a long match yesterday, to be able to compete well the next day.”
For Federer’s sake, I hope his back is bad because if it’s not then he’s in serious, serious trouble. From my view, though, Federer wasn’t moving his best and he wasn’t cracking his serves into the 120s like he had been earlier in the week. Clearly the 31-year-old was in some discomfort. With his reduced schedule, at least he’ll now have seven weeks to retool and reload before Madrid in May. And even then, is he really going to beat Rafa then on the clay?
As for Nadal, it was a quality result. Sure, Federer may not have been at his psychical best (Nadal isn’t either), but Rafa didn’t flinch and took care of business, just like he had to do. That’s what champions do. No mercy.
While Federer remains titleless since Cincinnati last summer, Nadal is racing back into formidable form. He’s beaten Federer 19 of 29 times now, and almost more impressively six of eight on outdoor cement. And he’s now reached eight straight semifinals in the desert. Not bad for a clay guy with bad knees.
After back-to-back days, Nadal gets a much-welcomed Friday off to rest and recover and to prepare for another tough challenge come Saturday against Tomas Berdych in the semifinals. In the undercard this afternoon under a blazing sun Berdych took out Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4. As good as Berdych is playing – he’s yet to lose a set this week – he’s just 3-12 against Nadal losing 11 straight!
Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s starting to look like the King of Clay is back for real. Better get used to it.
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