Rafael Nadal withstood the challenge of Russian Karen Khachanov to set up a blockbuster semi-final match with Roger Federer at the ATP Indian Wells Masters Friday, their 39th meeting which Nadal leads 23-15.
However, Federer has won 11 of their 20 hard-court meetings, including their last five.Their last meeting was in October of 2017, when Federer triumphed in straight sets in the final of the Shanghai Masters.
Both players are looking forward to the encounter, which Nadal calls a special match.
Nadal, who booked the semi-final ticket despite a flare-up of right knee trouble that required mid-match treatment, said he hoped to be physically fit to take on Federer.
“If I don’t see this match as special it’s because I don’t love this sport and I don’t appreciate the story of this sport,” Nadal said.
World number two Nadal dominated two tiebreakers to beat Karen Khachanov, the towering Russian 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2). Federer, a five-time champion at Indian Wells breezed past 67th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 6-4, 6-4.
“Hopefully I will be ready for it,” said Nadal, who recovered an early break in the opening set and powered through the tiebreaker, but called for the trainer to have supportive tape applied below his right knee three games into the second.
“I just had to give my best and that’s what I did,” said Nadal, who has battled tendinitis in his knees throughout his career. “I’m very happy to be in the semi-finals.”
He’ll be gunning for a chance to claim a fourth Indian Wells title while Federer is seeking to break out of a tie with Djokovic with a record sixth.
Federer said he might not feel quite the same tingle of anticipation as fans at the prospect of facing Nadal, but he acknowledged that their clashes always raise the stakes.
“If I play Rafa there’s extra energy in the building — there’s always a lot on the line,” said Federer, who added that so much time has passed since their last meeting that his own current five-match winning streak is of little significance.
“I don’t think those five matches matter that much, to be honest,” he said. “A lot of time has gone by”, he said.