It may be merely a quarterfinal but there will no little anticipation and intrigue when Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer step out on the court to face off for the 31st time on Friday. The pair, with an incredible 29 Grand Slams between them, will be meeting at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati and as well as looking to get their hands on yet another ATP Masters 1000 title there will also be the incentive of laying down a marker for the upcoming U.S. Open.
There is little doubt that right now Nadal is the man in better form. Despite a stunning hiccup at Wimbledon, the Spaniard has enjoyed an incredible return to the tour after a seven month injury layoff due to a knee problem. Indeed, Nadal is a long way ahead of the rest in the ATP points race for 2013. The 27-year-old is also allying fears of his ability to cope physically on hard courts as he added the title in Montreal last week to the one he claimed in Indian Wells earlier in the year. And Nadal explained that he is looking forward to the challenge of taking on his long-time rival.
"We played so many times for very important things,” he said after disposing of “Baby Federer” Grigor Dimitrov in three sets on Thursday. "That makes every match very special. The combination of styles makes the matches very interesting. I hope to be ready for that."
Federer’s year has thus far not gone as he would have liked, but the Swiss great realizes there is still time to rectify that with the final Grand Slam of 2013 just over a week away. Like Nadal, Federer suffered an ignominiously early exit at Wimbledon. And that prompted the 32-year-old to make changes, as he utilized a new larger-framed racket. Yet, with results not going well in Hamburg or Gstaad, Federer has revealed that he has gone back to his tried and tested weapon until after the US Open.
Even with his old racket, it looked like being another unwanted early exit at Cincinnati for the 17-time Grand Slam winner as he trailed good friend and fellow veteran Tommy Haas by set and a break in the last round. But Federer responded to take the match, 6-3 in the third, and claimed that the manner of the match would stand him in good stead.
“Those are the matches I knew just kind of what I need right now," he explained, according to the ATP website. "Every minute more in a match court is a good thing right now. It gives me a lot of opportunity in the next match to do better."
Federer will likely have to do considerably better if he is to remain in with a chance of claiming a record sixth title in Cincinnati. Nadal has shown an improved aggressive streak on hard courts of late as he looks to quickly punish any opportunity from his opponents serve or off the ground. And that could well lead to a straight-sets win for the man from Mallorca.
Where to watch: The Western and Southern Open quarterfinal between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is scheduled to get underway at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.