The Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal semifinal showdown we all wanted to see in the Indian Wells desert is happening… We hope!
That’s because during his 7-6(2), 7-6(2) win over the big Russian Karen Khachanov, Rafa showed signs of a knee issue three games into the second set.
Nadal needed treatment and strapping on that right knee and then proceeded to hobble around. Khachanov had chances and later had a set point to push it to three but just couldn’t convert. The 22-year-old is really powerful from the baseline but at the net he’s a mess. And that hurt him.
By the end in the second breaker, Nadal was looking good again, though the big question is, will the knee be OK tomorrow? Even he doesn’t know.
“Nobody can guarantee anything about what can happen the next day because, in this world, anything can happen,” Nadal said. “My goal and my idea is be ready for tomorrow. Then happened what happened on court, so I cannot guarantee how I gonna wake up tomorrow morning.”
Before the knee flared up, it was a great battle. Khachanov took it to Rafa at first ball, breaking the Spaniard in the opening game and then holding. But Rafa began to figure things out against the big guy, mixing up pace, moving his serve, and getting more length on his shots.
Khachanov couldn’t adjust and find comfort. And at the time of asking he had no answer. He fell apart in the first set breaker and again in the second, and drops to 0-6 against Rafa.
“I think just today in the important moments, in the key moments, I played not right or maybe not good, and he played better than me in these situations,” Khachanov assessed.
“I think it was more about these important points, key points that I didn’t convert or I didn’t take it from my side.”
Earlier, Federer took care of the young Murray-esque Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-4. Roger had to save some break points late, but otherwise was untroubled throughout against the 22-year-old who was appearing in his first Masters quarter.
“At this stage of the tournament, you have to bring your best game,” Federer said. “I’m very excited to be in the semis here. Not that I didn’t expect it, but it definitely went better than I thought it would.”
Hurkacz has made quite a name for himself the last month, making the Dubai and Indian Wells quarters with two wins over Kei Nishikori.
“I was trying to compete, to fight, and believe that I can do it. Roger was playing great in the crucial moments,” Hurkacz said. “I had some small chances in the second set. But yeah, today was a great lesson for me.”
So to tomorrow’s matches.
Milos Raonic v Dominic Thiem
For whatever the reason, Raonic loves playing at Indian Wells. The Canadian has now made the semifinal four straight times, and he made the finals three years ago.
For Thiem, after a rough start to the year, he’s having his best week of the season, and has to be thankful he didn’t have to face an in-form Gael Monfils.
But he faces a guy he’s 0-2 against and plays his best tennis at Indian Wells. He brings the big serve, big forehand and clearly has the edge in experience on these courts.
“I think the conditions are good for me, especially when the sun’s out,” Raonic said. “The court heats up a little bit. There is a good amount of jump on the court.
“This year it’s a little bit slower than the previous years, but it allows me to take a few more swipes at a few more shots, and I can do different things with my serve that I need to get ahead in the point.”
Well, it’s only getting hotter this weekend and the sun will be out. So that’s good news for Raonic who I think pushes Thiem back off the baseline and powers to victory.
The Pick: Milos Raonic in two
Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
Well, this one is easy. With the courts playing slow, as Raonic said, if Rafa’s healthy, he wins. If the knee is bad, Federer wins!
It’s that simple.
I just think Rafa in full flight is better than Roger right now. He’s played better, won bigger matches of late and even though he’s lost five straight to the Swiss, I think this court and in the heat helps Rafa.
Nadal does lead the head-to-head 23-15, but Federer should be confident knowing he’s won the last five. However, they haven’t played since October 2017 and Federer hasn’t beaten a Top 5 player since Grigor Dimitrov 13 months ago in Rotterdam.
“It’s different styles, different ways to understand the sport, and at the same time, two players with a good relationship after all the things that we went through in our careers and competing for the most important things,” said Nadal. “All these things always make the matches really special between us. It’s beautiful to have the chance to keep competing at the highest level in advanced rounds, in the most important events, at this late part of our tennis careers.”
Added Federer, ““A lot of time has gone by. A lot has happened in those 18 months… you can’t just copy/paste and play exactly the same thing again,” he said. “He’s at a higher level than he was at the Australian Open… especially in a place like Indian Wells, where he feels comfortable, he’s clearly very tough to play.”
So if the knee is OK, Nadal gets through. Will it be? I have my doubts, so…
The Pick: Federer in two, or a walkover
ESPN/ABC will have live coverage of both matches start at 11am ET. Almost 15 years after they first met, Federer and Nadal are still chugging along and competing against each in big matches. Amazing.
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