Keys to Victory for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in Epic Clash at Indian Wells

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IMarch 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

Two tennis legends with a combined 28 Grand Slam championships between them will square off in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif. on Thursday.

World No. 2 Roger Federer and long-time rival Rafael Nadal will go head to head for the first time in a year on Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, site of the season's first Masters 1000 event. Each star will be gunning for a 22nd career Masters 1000 title, but only one can advance, while the other will be going home dissatisfied. 

Below we'll break down the keys to victory for both players in their 29th meeting.

Rafa Must Convert Break Point Chances

Nadal will have to make the most of every opportunity he gets to break Federer on Thursday, making sure to cash in on a majority of his break point chances. 

In 2013, Rafa is converting 46 percent of his returning break points, which is impressive considering that Fed is converting at a mark of just 34 percent this season.

Plus, Fed isn't doing a great job of saving break points during his service games either, saving just 66 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, Nadal is saving 79 percent of his break points on serve this year.

Failing to capitalize on a break point opportunity can demoralize a player and turn the tide of any match. Nadal must make the most of every chance he gets to break Federer's serve at Indian Wells, otherwise his room for error during his service games will be virtually nonexistent.

Fed Must Continue to Dominate on First Serve

Despite all of his struggles to start the 2013 season, Federer has remained sensational on his first serve, winning 79 percent of those points this year.

Rafa is only winning 34 percent of his first serve return points this season, so Fed will have a great shot to get ahead of his rival during his service games if he can find the mark on his serve. It's no secret that the Swiss superstar is among the best servers in the history of the sport, but at age 31, putting a first serve into the box with exceptional pace and confusing direction isn't as easy as it once was.

If Fed isn't connecting consistently on his first serve then he'll open the door for Nadal, who is winning 53 percent of his second serve return points in 2013. 

Who Will Win the Clutch Points? 

In the end, Thursday's much-anticipated quarterfinal will be won by whichever player makes the most of the clutch points. How will each respond to the pressure of such a high profile match? 

Sure, both Federer and Nadal have played in huge matches before, but it's been awhile since either has won a big-time tournament. Nearly a year in fact; Rafa won the French Open last June, and Fed won Wimbledon last July.

A few mistakes here or there could cost either player a shot to advance to the semifinals.

This match is nearly impossible to predict. Nadal leads the all-time series 18-10, but Federer has taken six of the 11 hard-court matches, including the two players' most recent meeting at Indian Wells in 2012. While Fed will be at an advantage if he's serving accurately and getting ahead early, Rafa will be in the driver's seat if he's playing his game and converting a high percentage of break point chances. 

A match of this even and of such magnitude will be decided by the clutch points in the big moments. Who will rise to the occasion and play to win, and who will crack under the pressure?

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