Indian Wells: Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal Quarterfinal Is New Chapter in Rivalry

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistMarch 14, 2013

INDIAN WELLS, CA - MARCH 17:  Rafael Nadal of Spain congratulates Roger Federer of Switzerland after their match during the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 17, 2012 in Indian Wells, California.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will renew their rivalry in the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals at Indian Wells. Don’t think this match doesn’t matter. The characters, scenery and stage have been altered, but old memories will be rekindled and competitive pride could turn into faint Swiss yells and Spanish scissor kicks.

The Federer-Nadal rivalry’s golden age peaked four years ago. They have thrown a few lightning bolts, but it’s hard to match the thunder of anticipation each time these titans collide. Yet, it’s a reminder of the days when they stood alone on Mt. Olympus while the other mortals huddled in fear upon the Plains of Troy.

Dueling Gods

Old rivalries die hard, even those with amicable undercurrents. Federer would want to pound Nadal in a game of ping-pong or tiddlywinks. He would celebrate blitzes and squops with a modest fist clench.

Nadal would hardly be expected to keep within the time constraints of speed chess. He would towel off, take sips of bottled energy drinks between moves and melt Federer’s pieces with a Sith-like glare.

Maybe Tuesday’s earthquake in Indian Wells was merely the Earth’s anticipation of something out of The Iliad.

Why Federer Needs to Win

Federer is less concerned about trimming the gap in his career 18-10 deficit against Nadal. He is trying to hold on to the No. 2 ranking. He wants to continue receiving more favorable draws as a higher seed. He must defend the hard courts and his Indian Wells title to drive momentum to the European clay-court season next month.

Federer has designs to extend his greatness on the ATP tour, and each match is an integral brick to laying a Grand Slam foundation.

Why Nadal Needs to Win

Nadal’s team has downplayed his successful and scrutinized return to tennis. Distractions concerning his knee injury must step aside for peak performances. If he is to climb back up the mountain during the reign of King Novak, he must win on hard courts.

A win versus Federer would be one more step to restoring order in the Nadal handbook for tour dominance. Clay courts aside, Nadal will need greater durability and confidence to challenge the other Fab Four on hard courts and Grand Slam events outside Roland Garros. This is the kind of win that would set up a sizzling summer on the concrete jungle of North America.


Crystal Ball Collisions

Careers are constantly in motion. Perhaps it will be Federer who roars on, picking off Wimbledon or another hard-court Slam or two. Maybe Nadal the nemesis will only be remembered as a bad dream.

Perhaps Nadal goes into beast mode for the next year and battles Djokovic for No. 1. He would all but seal the longstanding pattern to their relationship. ESPN might produce a movie on his miracle healing and comeback.

Then again, Nadal and Federer could crash or fade away together with scattered early-round meetings, more significant as wafts of nostalgia and de facto post-retirement exhibitions they will one day share.

There is, of course, the possibility both players reach back to the fountain of youth and fight a couple more epic Slam finals. It’s more of a fantasy scenario as this point, but champions can always deliver one more great punch.

Who Wins at Indian Wells?

Federer was stretched to three sets against Stanislas Wawrinka. He is reportedly experiencing back pains and stiffness, according to Matt Cronin of Tennis.com. But Federer is also better able to dictate points in the thin, cool night air at Indian Wells. Last year, his climb to No. 1 was buoyed in part by his Indian Wells semifinal victory against Nadal.

Nadal comes in after a tough fight against Ernests Gulbis. There could be residual fatigue, but it was the kind of match Nadal needed against a hot, talented player. The benefits to his confidence should bolster his belief if points with Federer become rugged. He knows how to play the underdog role in a tough, close match, and certainly has the resume and formula to win.

A few things to watch: Will Federer use an aggressive backhand to hit balls on the rise? Last year, he did this well to prevent Nadal from chewing up the court with high bounces. How much will he place drop shots and slices to test Nadal’s scrambling and disrupt his rhythm?

Will Nadal look for more opportunities to flatten out the forehand for the corners? He will need to dictate a fair share of points to force errors and force Federer to use his wheels. Too much ambivalence could be costly. Will he lock in on Federer’s serve and get a look at eight to 10 break points?

Ancient grudges may cause the Earth to groan, and legendary champions are constellations for future ages. The Federer-Nadal rivalry may not be a Grand Slam final, but the battle will be fierce and unforgiving.

Click here for a look at Federer's timeless artistry

Click here for a look at Nadal's comeback on hard courts

Click here for a look at the top 25 legacies of the Open era


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