There was huge anticipation for the first meeting in 12 months between this generation’s two greatest players, but the quarterfinal duel between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Indian Wells turned into an equally sizable anticlimax.
The pre-match narrative had been dominated by talk of Nadal’s ability to cope with a knee injury that had ruled him out for more than seven months, but it was a back problem for Federer that played the significant role in the match’s outcome—a 6-4 6-2 win for Nadal.
The first set was competitive and there were the odd flashes of the sort of shot-making and intriguing contrast of styles that has made so many of the pair’s previous 28 meetings classics. Nadal broke at 3-3 and held serve to take the opener, but as Federer’s movement became increasingly compromised by a back injury that he tweaked earlier in the week, Nadal ran away with the second.
“I played a fantastic first set," Nadal said, according to the Associated Press. "The second set was strange. Roger didn't fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn't feel enough comfortable to keep fighting."
The respect between the two greats, who have 28 Grand Slam titles between them, the most on show between two opponents in the history of the ATP Tour, was displayed as Nadal produced a muted celebration after Federer flailed a backhand into the net to hand the fifth seed victory.
Federer, 31, played down the injury, but admitted that against the very best he needs to be at 100 percent to compete.
"I'm happy to be out there and able to compete, but it's obviously a small issue," he said. "That doesn't work against guys like Rafa, obviously."
Nadal extends his winning record over Federer to 19-10 and equals their hard-court head-to-heads at six apiece. The Spaniard will now meet sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.