The big question of the day in the tennis world was would Rafael Nadal be able to play his Indian Wells semifinal match against Roger Federer? Not surprisingly, the answer was no.
That right knee Rafa tweaked yesterday in his tough win over Karen Khachanov, simply wasn’t good enough to go today. Nor will it be ready for Miami, so Rafa’s already looking ahead to the clay. And it’s probably the right move not risking another prolonged absence like we saw after the US Open.
“As I said yesterday after the match, I felt that something happened in the knee,” Nadal said. “I wanted to try my best to be competitive today. I warmed up today in the morning and I felt that my knee was not enough good to compete at the level that I need to compete, to play the semi-finals of this event.”
Closing in on 33, it’s going to be imperative that Rafa take care of his body and mind his knees. And that will likely mean fewer hardcourt tournament – why did he even bother playing Acapulco?
And he’s never been one to be afraid to retire or withdraw, and that now includes when he’s matched up with Roger. So he doesn’t take any chances and I think he make the right call not taking one today.
Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and he’ll be fine for the clay. But the hard fast is, the end isn’t far away for Rafa.
So without hitting a ball today, Federer moves on to his ninth Indian Wells final, and he’ll meet Dominic Thiem who also benefited from a walkover, that coming from Gael Monfils on Thursday. But this afternoon, Milos Raonic made him work.
Thiem started out virtually untouchable on serve in the first set, but the Canadian began making some inroads on Thiem’s serve in the second. Eventually, Raonic, using his own serve, bombed his way through the breaker to even things.
Thiem avoided some tense moments in his first service game of the third, and then got the first break of the match in the fifth game.
Serving out for his first Indian Wells final, Raonic had a break chance but couldn’t make it happen as Thiem took it 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4 in 2 hours, 31 minutes.
“I knew it’s gonna be tough,” Thiem said. “His serve is unreal. I knew that there was going to be probably a tie-break. I played really well the whole match, basically. I didn’t make a lot of unforced errors. And I had a very good first serve percentage. That was great.
“In general, it was a very good match because the only break point I had to save was in the last game, and that was what I wanted to do, to play my service games well and not give him too many chances.”
Roanic, who had played decent in his last two matches, couldn’t hang with Thiem from the baseline, which wasn’t a big surprise. But Thiem’s ability to easily hold serve, without getting broken all day, was.
“There were definitely some things I would have liked to do better, but I thought I competed and I tried to figure things out as best as I could,” said Raonic. “It’s the way it goes. He played well. He did the smart things and he did the things better at the end.
“He was pushing me back. He wasn’t missing many first serves. Then he was aggressive from the very first ball. There wasn’t many times that I got to be on the offensive on the return games and when I did, I wasn’t efficient about taking advantage of it.”
So Thiem will get his third chance for Masters glory against Federer tomorrow. Will he do it?
Roger Federer v Dominic Thiem
For Federer, Raonic would have been a better matchup because against the Canadian I think Roger would know he wouldn’t have any issues holding serve. Thiem is a totally different animal than Raonic.
Thiem’s like a right-handed Rafa, just not as smart or as polished. Heavy, tireless groundstrokes, decent serve (which seems to be improving), quick around the court and like Rafa, Thiem will benefit from this court, but will have to be wary of his court positioning.
“It’s always something special to play Roger and also something special to compete in Masters 1000 finals,” said Thiem. “It’s only my third one. I have pretty bad stats in the finals, so I know it’s going to be very tough, but at the same time, I will give everything to hopefully win my first title.”
The two have split four meetings with Thiem winning on clay and grass back in 2016 and Roger getting the last win at the ATP Finals back in the fall improving him to 2-0 against the Austrian on hard courts. So Roger, based on his experience and his two wins over Thiem on hard courts, is the clear favorite and he gets the edge.
However, I still feel like Roger’s beatable. The courts still look awfully slow, much more suitable to Thiem than Federer. And Thiem should be able to use that court to just pound shots to Roger’s backhand. Over and over and over again.
Thiem will have to be up in the court and serve well, otherwise Federer will roll.
The difference in the end should be the key moments. We know Federer can get through those, he’s proven that. Thiem, though, has never won a match like this – 0-2 in Masters finals, 0-1 in Slam finals – so that gives me too much pause. And with no Rafa, no Djokovic, I think Federer knows he can steal a Masters tomorrow then take six week off before the clay.
Thiem keeps it close, gets a set, but come crunch time, the 25-year-old feels the pressure and Federer gets a 6th Indian Wells and 101st career title.
The Pick: Federer in 3
ESPN will have live coverage of both finals starting with the Angelique Kerber-Bianca Andreescu at 4pm.
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