NOT FULLY FIT: Rodger Federer of Switzerland reacts after loosing a game against Rafael Nadal of Spain in second set during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California. (EPA)
DPA/Indian Wells, California
Rafael Nadal pounced on half-strength rival Roger Federer, taking advantage of the second seed’s back injury to earn a 6-4, 6-2 trip into the semi-finals of the Indian Wells Masters yesterday.
The high-voltage classic was a repeat of a semi-final won at the venue a year ago by Federer, who went on to take the 2012 title. Nadal, playing his first tournament on hardcourt after winning two titles on clay following seven months out with knee injuries, advanced in just under 90 minutes. The Spanish fifth seed will play today for a spot in the finals against Tomas Berdych, who beat South African Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4.
The Federer-Nadal match was watched by American legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, who cut the template for the long-time rivalry between Federer and Nadal.
The win leaves Nadal with a 19-10 record in the series. Federer had been playing with back problems but has been unwilling to blame his form on the niggle.
“I know Roger was not at his 100%, but I’m very happy to be in the semi-finals,” said Nadal, now 6-6 on hardcourts against the Swiss. “It was an important win for me - they all are now.
“I’m glad to be back in competition after being out injured for so long. Every match you play with Roger is special.”
Federer supplied little detail about his condition, other than saying he felt the same in a win 24 hours earlier over Stanislas Wawrinka.
“At least I could serve full basically, and that always gives you a direction,” said the 17-time Grand Slam winner. “And then if (the back) was bothering in some moments that’s a problem for me to have, but not for me to talk about too much because I don’t like to undermine his performance.
“It’s obviously a small issue, that doesn’t work against guys like Rafa.”
Federer hung tough in the opening set despite facing break points, finally dropping serve on a pass to trail 3-4. Two games later, he saved two set points for Nadal to stay in touch 4-5. But after saving one more a game later, the Spaniard closed out the set with a service winner, 6-4.
Federer went down a double break in the second set, got one back but was then broken for 5-2 on the way to the exits a game later, with Nadal double-faulting away one match point but converting on a second.
“The longer the match went on, I realized I had to change up my game,” said Federer. “I played differently than I was hoping to be able to.
“Obviously he got more comfortable as the match went on, as well. Things became difficult. Once I was down a set I knew it was going to be difficult.”
In women’s play, German Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark moved into a semi-final as both advanced through injury walkovers. Kerber, the fourth seed, reached the final four as seventh-seeded opponent Samantha Stosur withdrew Thursday with a calf injury.
Kerber lost in the 2012 semis to Victoria Azarenka in the Californian desert.
A few hours after Stosur packed it in, Azarenka did the same, succumbing to ankle tendinitis that has bothered her for several weeks.
The Belarus top seed was to have faced Wozniacki but pulled the plug after an attempt at training Thursday, after skipping practice the day before.
“I tested it out as much as possible. I tried absolutely everything I could to do, but I have been advised by the doctor, by my own team, that it’s just a very, very high risk to make it much worse,” said the defending champion. “It cannot get better with me playing on it, especially playing the last three matches on it.”
Kerber beat Wozniacki in all three of their 2012 matches. “But it starts again from zero,” she said. “It will be a tough match tomorrow.”