The headline is “Roger Federer is through to the QFs at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells”. That one line however and does not give an inkling of the arduous journey Federer took to get there. Roger started shakily, getting broken for the first time in this tournament on his very first service game. You would think Wawrinka would have run away with that lead but no, he gotten broken right back and we were back on serve. It continued in the same vein till the 4th game when Stan was broken by Roger to go up 3-1. Roger served it out and took the first set in 32 minutes. In the second set there was a repeat of an early break in the 3rd game as Roger broke Stan to go up 2-1. Both men held serve till Roger was about to serve it out for the match at 5-4 when all of a sudden the Swiss’s form took leave of him (for the umpteenth time in the match) and he got broken at love for 5-all. Before long we arrived at a tie-break. Mini breaks were exchanged throughout and finally at 6-4 down and facing set point, the Maestro served up a double fault and with that, we were in for a third set.
The third set had even more drama. Serving at 0-30 at 1-all Federer thought his own serve should have been called out and he would have a second serve but it wasn’t called out and Stan returned right away. Roger realized this a second too late and tried to volley but hit the net. The umpire would not allow a challenge since Roger had hit the shot but Roger insisted saying he didn’t have enough time to make a challenge as Stan’s forehand came back too quickly. Clearly upset and facing break point Roger failed to save it and got broken at love. You can see the argument here.
However, even though Roger lost that game, the incident seemed to light a fire in him as Roger was able to channel his anger to galvanize himself; he promptly broke Stan back to get up to 2-all. From then on, both players held serve with Roger offering one more break point while serving at 4-all but quickly saved it with a forehand cross-court winner. Stan on the other hand offered no break points till he was serving to take the final set to a tie-break. And then somehow, he just imploded. Roger broke him and won the set and the match, 6-3, 6-7(4-7), 7-5 in 2 hours 20 minutes. This win also set a new record for Roger, he has now won his 42nd match at Indian Wells, breaking the previous record set by Andre Agassi.
It has to be said, this was not an enjoyable match to watch, both players had flashes of brilliance but otherwise swung from bad to worse. The match stuttered and sputtered throughout it’s duration. Federer won today not with his usual finesse but rather with sheer grit, determination, self-belief, and experience at playing the big points with a pinch of luck thrown in. It helped FedEx that Stan didn’t bring his A-game either which is surprising because unlike Federer who has been having an awful time with his back since his Round 3 match, Stan played a stellar match against Hewitt 2 days ago. Today his form failed him and I don’t know if it was due to the fact that he was playing Federer. It could be, for that H2H is disheartening for sure. At the end of the 3rd set he just couldn’t handle all that pressure and Roger snatched it away from him thankfully saving us the pain of going through another tortuous tie-break. Their H2H now stands at 13-1. Here is Federer’s post-match interview and here are the match stats:With this win the tennis world woke up to the realization that a Fedal i.e. Federer-Nadal QF was actually possible and approximately 3 hours later Nadal confirmed it with a very tightly fought highly entertaining win over Ernests Gulbis. Nadal displayed no signs of struggle with his knee and had great movement and shots. But more importantly Rafa played the match with that fierce intensity that we’ve come to associate him with; the one that says “never say die” whether he is a set down, or serving for the match. Rafa is in good form right now but I wouldn’t have been worried if the Roger we saw in Round 2 was to miraculously appear. In my mind that Roger would have won against this Rafa no question. Now however, the Swiss’s back will have a say in the matter. Roger was late to his press conference again and I assume he got back treatment first. These two hardly have enough time to recuperate as they take to the court tomorrow at 7:00 pm local time (2:00 am GMT).
So in less than 24 hours we will see the two greats of tennis take center stage for the 29th time in their careers. They will meet again 3 days short of a year from when they last played at the same venue in the SFs. Times have changed and they are not the sole pair at the top looking down from the heavens. But it is a testament to their legacy, both individual and that of their rivalry that guarantees this match to be the highlight of the tournament. This rivalry transcends time, place and ranking and the impact wasn’t lost on the Maestro himself:
“Obviously playing Rafa, it’s a classic. We have played, you know, so many times, we know each other really well on and off the court. We know what to expect, both of us. I mean, we are both a bit suspect going into this, I guess, so it’s an interesting match-up, especially this early in the tournament. It’s not like a first round, but in the past this match used to be a final, now it’s a quarter-final, so obviously it’s a bit of bad luck of the draw for both of us. At the same time, it’s very exciting always playing each other, doesn’t matter what stage.”
Federer fans don’t need to be reminded of the H2H (yes, most of them being on clay) with Rafa and given his back issues we will worry even more. But I take heart in Roger’s last sentence. I think he is genuinely happy to be playing against his old rival and that will, I hope, add some extra pep in his step and get that adrenaline pumping. I obviously want Roger to win but whether he wins or loses, I hope it’s an electric match with great tennis. I personally, am sick of the media trying to ram this Novak-Andy pair down my throat, against my will. I know there are a ton of Federer fans out there who despise this match-up but honestly, aren’t you the teensiest bit tired of the media gushing over Nolandy/Novandy? I actually think Roger with Djokovic or Murray is more fun to watch than Djokovic-Murray together but I just might be a bit biased there 😉 I do believe though that this Swiss-Spanish rivalry is one for the ages and a great QF match would put the tennis world on notice: that age and a bad back – and a swollen knee – can’t keep these champions down. The weight of their combined 28 grand slam trophies (17 for the Maestro and 11 for Rafa) will push them through.
Conversely, a lopsided Fedal match would be sad indeed so hopefully Federer is getting plenty of treatment and resting up and will be fit enough to take on Rafa. And let’s keep in mind that he took Rafa to the cleaners last year. But as the King pointed out himself, this time they’re both a bit suspect, with injuries and so on and that will make it an ‘interesting match-up’. In the meantime, I have one request for our champ: Wear the blue shirt Roger! That one has more magic! 😉 Fingers crossed for a good match with Roger victorious in the end!