Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal has made a fine comeback to hard courts at Indian Wells. Reuters

The greatest rivalry of this and perhaps any generation will get a most welcome 29th airing at Indian Wells on Thursday as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer face off in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.

It seems a little incongruous that these two greats, with 28 Grand Slam titles between them, should be meeting at a tournament’s quarterfinal stage. Nadal is on the comeback trail, however, having missed seven months with a knee injury and the contest with Federer undoubtedly represents the greatest test he has faced since his return last month.

Nadal has previously played three tournaments on clay—winning two and reaching the final in the other—but it is on hard courts where his knees will be most tested. The Spaniard has even lamented this week the high percentage of tournaments played on the surface, claiming it is shortening players’ careers.

The huge anticipation for this latest clash is emphasized by the fact that the pair have not met since Indian Wells last year. On that occasion it was Federer who came out on top in straight sets. While Nadal holds a strong edge overall in their head-to-heads, 18-10, the record on hard courts is far more favorable to the Swiss, with Federer having won six of their 11 meetings.

No doubt everyone involved in the event has been keeping their fingers crossed for the pair to avoid any slipups on their way to meeting. The match so nearly didn’t come to fruition as both survived tough three-set matches in the fourth round on Wednesday.

Federer was forced to go the distance and fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, having failed to serve the out the match in the second set, before eventually pulling through 7-5 in the third.

Nadal was tested even harder in an entertaining encounter with talented Ernests Gulbis. After losing the opening set, the fifth seed showed the fighting spirit that has become so renowned to pull the match out 7-5 in the third.

More entertainment should be in store on Thursday.

In the other men’s quarterfinal of the day, Tomas Berdych will take on Kevin Anderson. The unseeded Anderson has progressed to the last eight of an ATP Masters 1000 event for only the second time on the back of impressive wins over David Ferrer and Giles Simon.

The giant South African is likely to have his work cut out to keep his run going against sixth-seeded Berdych. The Czech has won all five of the pair’s previous meetings, all of which were played within the past 14 months.

There are also two women’s quarterfinals to look forward to on Thursday. Caroline Wozniacki takes a 4-2 head-to-head edge into her meeting with Victoria Azarenka, but much has changed for both women since they last met two years ago.

Azarenka has become one of the tour’s dominant players in the past year, holding the No. 1 ranking for a considerable time and claiming two Grand Slam titles, both at the Australian Open.

In contrast, Wozniacki’s star has fallen. The Dane long held the top spot in the rankings but faced much criticism for her failure to win a Grand Slam. Some of that pressure appears to have impacted her game and Wozniacki has slipped to 10th in the rankings.

Finally, in the day’s opening match, fourth seed Angelique Kerber takes on Australian Samantha Stosur. Kerber has struggled to back up her breakthrough season of last year thus far and will be hoping to ignite her 2013 with a second straight appearance in the semifinals at Indian Wells.

Seventh-seeded Stosur will provide tough opposition, though, and the Australian has won both of the pair’s previous meetings.

Where to watch: Thursday’s play at Indian Wells will begin at 2 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by the Tennis Channel, with a live stream available on ESPN3. Roger Federer and Nadal are set to begin their quarterfinal at 10 p.m. ET.