A rested Roger Federer will have a chance to win his sixth Indian Wells title when he faces Dominic Thiem in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
Federer is well-rested because he had a walkover in the semifinal match, as longtime rival Rafael Nadal was unable to play because of a knee problem that flared up.
In the other semifinal, Thiem went all out to beat Milos Raonic in the semifinal, recording a 7-6 (3), 6-7 (3), 6-4 victory.
Thiem was dominant on his serve, winning all of his games, and he managed to break Raonic in the final set. Raonic nearly pulled out the final game, would have squared the third set, but Thiem used his quickness on the court to run around Raonic's returns and unleash his powerful forehand.
Nadal had knee issues during his quarterfinal-round 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2) victory over Karen Khachanov. He had called for the trainer twice in the second set, and when he spoke about his knee following the match, he mentioned that he hoped it would allow him to play against Federer.
Instead, Nadal knew something was wrong when he attempted to warm up Saturday morning. "I warmed up today, and I felt that my knee was not good to compete at the level I needed to compete in [the] semifinals," Nadal said, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com).
Federer and Nadal were about to engage in their 39th match, with Nadal holding a 23-15 lead. Neither player had lost a set in any of their earlier matches in the tournament, but Nadal just was not healthy enough to compete against his longtime rival.
Nadal will also miss the upcoming Miami Open as a result of the injury. He will not return to action before the Monte Carlo Masters on clay in mid-April. Clay has long been Nadal's preferred surface.
Federer commented on Nadal's withdrawal. Despite the deficit in their head-to-head matches, he had won his previous five matches against the Spaniard.
"I'm just going to keep going, and I'm just going to keep doing the things that work well for me and accepting that sometimes these issues can happen," Federer said, per Richard Osborn of BNPParibasOpen.com. "So all the things that are in my hands I am doing well. The things that I can't control, I can't control."
Federer and Thiem will meet in the championship match Sunday evening. The men's championship will commence about 30 minutes after the women's title match between Angelique Kerber and Bianca Andreescu comes to its conclusion.
The women's match will begin at 4 p.m. ET, and ESPN2 will televise both matches.
Thiem, 25, should be fairly confident as he meets the legendary 37-year-old Federer. The two men have split four previous matches, with Thiem winning two of three matches in 2016, while Federer won their matchup in 2018.
"I will be playing probably the best player ever," Thiem said in an on-court interview with Mary Jo Fernandez of ESPN. "He's in really good form, and I'll do everything I can to stop him."
Both of Federer's victories were in straight sets, while Thiem was pushed to three sets in one of his victories.
Federer has 100 career tournament titles in his career, while Thiem has 11.
Federer is in top form at Indian Wells, and he received a great break in not having to compete against Nadal.
He might have beaten his great rival or he could have lost, but either way, Federer would have had to work for close to three hours in the hot California sun.
No matter how disappointed the fans are for missing out on a potential classic match, not having to play allows Federer the rest needed to be at his best when the championship is on the line.
Thiem is a solid opponent with tremendous quickness and a clever game plan, but beating Raonic is one thing, and beating Federer is quite another.
Especially when Federer is healthy, rested and very close to the top of his game. Look for Federer to beat Thiem, quite possibly in straight sets.