Rafael Nadal took another step in his return from injury with a convincing victory over a hurting Roger Federer yesterday in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters.
Nadal broke Federer three times in the second set en route to a 6-4, 6-2 victory over the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who has been nursing a nagging back injury.
“I don’t think Roger was 100 per cent tonight,” said Nadal, who nevertheless said the win over his great rival was a key step in his comeback from a seven-month absence while rehabilitating his damaged left knee. “It was an important win for me. They all are now.”
He’s the fifth seed in a field led by world number one Novak Djokovic, which also includes third-ranked Scot Andy Murray and second seed and 2012 champion Federer.
Nadal improved to 19-10 against Federer in a rivalry stretching back to 2004, which has included some epic clashes on the game’s biggest stages. The pair had not met since the Indian Wells semi-final last year.
“I played a fantastic first set,” added the world number five. “The second set was strange. The second set I think Federer didn’t fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn’t feel enough comfortable to keep fighting.”
Federer, meanwhile, said that while he clawed out a victory over Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round despite his aching back, Nadal had been too good.
“It’s obviously a small issue,” Federer said of the back trouble that he has received treatment for throughout the tournament. “That doesn’t work against a guy like Nadal.”
Nadal advanced to a semi-final showdown with sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over South African Kevin Anderson.
Berdych has reached the semi-finals without dropping a set and said his run in the first Masters tournament of the year was a morale booster.
“It feels great,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s the first Masters of the year, it’s very important for me for the confidence.”
Injuries force Azarenka, Stosur to quit
Meanwhile, the women’s quarter-finals at Indian Wells ended with a whimper yesterday as defending champion Victoria Azarenka and seventh seed Sam Stosur both pulled out with injuries.
The world number two from Belarus withdrew before her clash with Caroline Wozniacki with tendinitis and inflammation in her right foot and ankle.
Stosur, a former US Open champion, pulled out with a right calf injury, granting fourth seed Angelique Kerber of Germany a walkover.
“I’ll talk to the physios and the doctors and work out a good plan for how many days off I need to take off and go from there,” said Stosur, who said she ‘felt something go’ in her calf in the last game of her fourth-round win over Mona Barthel.
Azarenka was in much the same boat.
“That’s frustrating for me as a player, not knowing,” she said over the uncertainty of her expected recovery time.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2013.