Federer, Nadal set for Indian Wells clash

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Rafael Nadal (L) and Roger Federer last met at Indian Wells in 2017 (pictured) - Federer won that clash in the fourth round (Getty Images)
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will clash for the 39th time when they meet in the semifinals at Indian Wells.

It’s Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal again – this time in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells

Federer beat Hubert Hurkacz 6-4 6-4 before Nadal got by Karen Khachanov 7-6(2) 7-6(2) on Friday to set up the old rivals’ 39th career meeting and first in 16 months.

Neither Federer nor Nadal has dropped a set in four matches in the desert. Federer has been broken just once, while Nadal has dropped serve three times, twice against Khachanov.

Nadal, 32, stands in the way of Federer’s pursuit of a record sixth title at Indian Wells.

Still, the Swiss superstar was rooting for Nadal to advance against his 22-year-old opponent.

“Playing against young guys to eventually get to Rafa, that’s exciting,” said Federer, who also faced an opponent the same age as Khachanov.

Nadal’s right knee flared up in the second set for the first time during the tournament. He called for a trainer who applied tape just below the knee. The trainer returned again with Nadal leading 3-2 in the second set.

“My goal and my idea is be ready for tomorrow,” Nadal said. “I cannot guarantee how I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning.”

Knee problems have dogged the 32-year-old Spaniard in recent years, and they cut short his 2018 season after the US Open in September.

“I love to play on hard (courts), but probably my body doesn’t love it that much,” Nadal said. “As I say before, is not only about today, is about tomorrow.

“Maybe we’re going to pay the price at the age of 45 or something. That will be not nice. When I see some old legends walking around the tour, is tough to see.”

Federer, 37, is on a five-matching winning streak against Nadal, who lost to Federer all four times they played in 2017, including the final time at the Shanghai Masters in October of that year.

“You look back at what I did well there, but you can’t just copy-paste and play exactly the same thing again,” said Federer, who trails 23-15 in the rivalry overall.

The other semifinal Saturday pits Milos Raonic against Dominic Thiem.

Nadal improved to 6-0 against Khachanov, although it was tougher and longer than Federer’s win.

Nadal trailed 6-5 before Khachanov’s forehand error forced the second tiebreaker, which Nadal dominated to close out the match that lasted just over two hours.

“He’s unbelievable in defense,” Khachanov said. “When you want to try maybe just to play more safe then he suddenly steps in and he counterattacks. He steps in and then he starts moving you, and then you are again in trouble.”

Federer believes Nadal is playing better than he did in losing the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, who was upset earlier in the week.

“When Rafa is healthy, especially in a place like here in Indian Wells where he feels comfortable, he’s clearly very tough to play,” Federer said.

Against Hurkacz, Federer fought off two break points in the second set, including the final game, when he closed the match with a forehand winner off a short ball.

“Not that I didn’t expect it,” the Swiss said, “but it definitely went better than I thought it would.”

Hurkacz, a 22-year-old Pole, earned three-set upsets of No.28 Lucas Pouille, No.6 Kei Nishikori and No.24 Denis Shapovalov to make his first ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, where he faced his childhood idol. Federer was playing in his 83rd at this level.

“Playing against him for the first time on the big stadium of a great crowd here was for sure different feeling,” Hurkacz said.

Federer won his 100th career title in Dubai recently, leaving him eight from tying Jimmy Connors’ record for most in the Open era. At 37, he became the oldest player to win a tour-level title since Marty Riessen won at Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1979 at the same age.

“I’m holding my serve comfortably. I’m in a good place mentally when I go into my service games,” he said. “It showed this week thus far, so I hope I can keep that up.”

Federer earned the only break of the first set in the fifth game. Trailing 3-2 in the second set, Hurkacz had a break point, but Federer closed the game with consecutive forehand winners and an ace.

Hurkacz aced Federer to trail 5-4. Federer netted back-to-back volleys to give Hurkacz hope and another break point. But he came up with a big serve to get to deuce. Hurkacz’s backhand down the line just missed to give Federer match point, and the Swiss superstar won with a forehand.

“Roger was playing great in the crucial moments. Today was a great lesson for me,” Hurkacz said.

“I had some small chances, so also give me motivation to work and to get there sometime.”

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