Rafael Nadal produced vintage form against an out-of-sorts Roger Federer to crush the Swiss player 6-4, 6-2 in their heavily anticipated quarter-final at the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday.
The Spanish left-hander, competing in his first hardcourt event since returning from seven months on the sidelines with a knee injury, moved around the court well and outplayed his long-time rival at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Nadal broke the defending champion once in the first set and three times in the second to wrap up victory in one hour, 24 minutes in front of a packed house at the Stadium Court.
The Spanish world No. 5 improved his record against Federer to 19-10 and is set to next face sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych, who beat South African Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the day.
“After seven months away, I am very happy to be in the semi-finals here,” a beaming Nadal said courtside after taking advantage of a slew of backhand errors by Federer, who has been struggling with a back niggle throughout the tournament.
“I played great the first set. I played a fantastic first set, in my opinion. The second set I think Roger didn’t fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn’t feel comfortable enough to keep fighting, but for myself I have to take the first set. The first set was a good match, my opinion. Both of us tried to play our best. I played much better than yesterday,” he said.
Asked what had pleased him most about his game, Nadal replied: “My movement tonight was much better than yesterday. I played longer than yesterday. I had a good feeling on my forehand, even if I had a few mistakes with my backhand in the second set. Sometimes today I am not able to play all the shots with my forehand that I used to be because I am not that fast yet to do it. That’s why the backhand today is very important.”
With a near-capacity crowd eagerly watching, the opening set went with serve until the seventh game when Nadal broke Federer with a stunning crosscourt backhand pass to lead 4-3.
Federer saved two set points on his serve in a protracted ninth game, but the Spaniard served out in the 10th, taking the set when a backhand service return by the Swiss sailed wide.
Moving much more fluently than his opponent and finding his range with searing crosscourt forehands, Nadal broke Federer in the first game of the second set when the Swiss lunged to his right, but was unable to return a dipping crosscourt shot.
Federer also failed to hold serve in the third, saving one break point, before the Spaniard unleashed a crunching forehand pass to lead 3-0.
Urged on by the crowd, the Swiss immediately rebounded by breaking Nadal’s serve for the first time in the match in the next game when his opponent hit a backhand long, then held for 2-3.
However, with Federer continuing to make unforced errors, the Spaniard again broke in the seventh game before serving out for the match in the eighth.
Asked how much of a problem his troublesome back had been against Nadal, Federer said it was the same as in the previous round against Stanislas Wawrinka.
“I mean, I could play. I’m happy to be out there and able to compete, you know,” he said. “But it’s obviously a small issue, and that doesn’t work against guys like Rafa, obviously.”
Earlier, Berdych, who has not dropped a set in his first four matches here, broke Anderson in the final game of both sets to seal his win in 90 minutes on a sizzling afternoon.
“It feels great,” Berdych said after beating Anderson for a sixth time in six career meetings. “I am happy to go through, and the fact that I haven’t lost a set is just a nice bonus.”
The Czech knows he faces a tough task against Nadal in the last four, having beaten the Spaniard only three times in 15 meetings, his most recent victory in Madrid in 2006.
“With his lefty hand and heavy spins, it’s very tough, you know, especially in these conditions,” said world No. 6 Berdych, who has reached two ATP finals this season, in Marseille and Dubai, losing both.
In the women’s doubles semi-finals on Thursday, Russia’s Nadia Petrova and Slovenia’s Katarina Srebotnik defeated Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and China’s Peng Shuai 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the final.
Additional reporting by staff writer