Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal face off in the quarterfinals of Indian Wells tonight. The last time the two rivals played each other was last year at the same event, with Federer winning 6-3, 6-4. Nadal holds an 18-to-10 edge all-time over Federer, but Federer clings to a six-to-four advantage on hard courts.
The 31-year-old has played only three tournaments this season in order to practice more and stay healthy and fit for Majors. Surprisingly, Federer is still seeking his first title of the season.
Federer looked inconsistent in his three-set win over compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka. But when it mattered most, he came up with a crucial break in the final set to seal the match 7-5. The defending BNP Paribas Open champion has won this event a record four times.
This is Nadal's first hard court tournament in almost a year and has looked shaky in the early rounds. The Spaniard needed three tough sets to take out the No. 67 player in the world Ernests Gulbis-- who was riding an impressive 13 match win streak.
After a seven month bout with chronic knee issues, Rafa returned to the ATP last month with success. He won two tournaments and reached the finals of another-- all on his native red clay. Nadal has won Indian Wells twice, in 2007 and 2009.
How Federer Will Win:
Federer needs to utilize the speed of the hard surface against Nadal. He needs to be ultra-aggressive, take the ball early and attack the net. In addition, he needs to serve efficiently and hit his spots. I expect Fed to test Nadal's knees and keep him off balance, by hitting a lot of angles and using different spins.
How Nadal Will Win:
Nadal must dictate play with his forehand to attack Federer's one-handed backhand. He needs to send a message to Fed early and often that he is no longer injured and he is still the game's best retriever and shot-maker. Nadal has to make a high percentage of his first serves and relentlessly pressure Federer's serve.
This is Nadal's first hard court tournament, but he is more focused on defending his French Open than performing well on March's American hard court swing. That being said, Federer has always had the advantage on hard courts and this match means much more to him than "The King of Clay." Federer will punish Nadal early and often, but Nadal will give a valiant fight to make sure Federer knows he is still the same old Nadal.
Federer wins in straight sets.