Roger Federer underlined his reemergence as a power centre in tennis with a classy performance against his nemesis Rafael Nadal. The Swiss maestro produced a silken smooth 6-2, 6-3 thumping of his Spanish rival to reach the quarterfinals in the Californian desert. Incidentally, Federer and Nadal met first in Miami in 2004, with the Swiss emerging winner in straight sets over a 17-year-old Nadal. Long-time followers of the sport believe that Federer is rewinding the clock with the quality of tennis that is reminiscent of his prime.
Federer’s 68-minute thumping of Nadal was only his 13th victory in 36 attempts. It was also the first time in their storied careers that Federer managed to beat Nadal three times in a row.
The victory has to be significant especially considering Federer’s shock loss to Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai earlier this month. Observers felt that Federer may have paid the price for under preparation, largely down to a busy schedule off the courts to mark an epochal 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne this year.
As was the case in Australia, Federer seems to have found a new string of excellence off the backhand flank. The Swiss took control straight out of the gates, breaking Nadal in the very first game. But it was a blazing backhand service winner to surge ahead 4-1 that really helped Federer stamp his authority over this celebrated contest.
In the lead-up to the tournament, the air was thick with the oddity of the draw in Indian Wells. Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Federer were all grouped into the same quarter. That is a combined collection of 44 Grand Slam titles with only one man having an opportunity to make the last four.
Federer, currently ranked tenth in the world, made light of the situation immediately after learning of the draw. “It doesn't matter. I've gone through so many draws. I came here to Indian Wells to play against those guys. So it doesn't matter if it's a semi, a final or actually a fourth round,” said the nonchalant Swiss. He backed that assertion in style last night with his facile victory over an opponent that tormented him more than any other player.
Since that maiden meeting in the third round of Miami, Federer and Nadal had never met as early as the fourth round ever again. The fact is a reminder of the standards of tennis the two men have played for well over a decade. The 35-year-old Swiss has an elephantine memory of his matches, but even he might find it hard to remember the last time he managed to score such a comprehensive victory over Nadal.
The quarter of death is now down to Nick Kyrgios and Federer. The eccentric Australian ran amok against Djokovic, with the latter struggling to find the answers to deal with the younger man’s unbridled aggression.
The Swiss has an intriguing match-up next against the young Australian, who is riding the high of trumping Djokovic twice in a row. This victory against Nadal should provide Federer the reassurance needed to get past the erratic genius of Kyrgios.
After sealing the first set against Nadal in 34 minutes, Federer got down to business early in the second set too. The Swiss punished a short ball with a venomous forehand to go up 2-1. Out came his fist and the writing was on the wall for a beleaguered Nadal.
“In Australia (it) was a very close match," explained a candid Nadal in his inimitable style of English. "I had good chances to win. Today, not (so much).”
“Today he played better than me. I didn't play my best match, and he played well,” underlined the clearly impressed Spaniard. “These kind of matches, when you're not playing your match, it's impossible to win."
Last night’s victory should also ring bells around the tour for another important reason. The stadium court features an Acrylic Plexipave IW surface that rates as one of the slowest hard court surfaces anywhere in the world.
“For me it was physically a good match,” said Federer. “Also, looking ahead, it’s always good conserving energy for the rest of the tournament, but also for the rest of the season and for your life, because every step more you take on court has an effect down the road, I believe.” The Swiss played remarkably aggressive tennis, scoring 26 winners and only 17 unforced errors.
The hard court surface is the nearest in pace to clay, with a CPR of 24. Relatively speaking, the Melbourne court where Federer won a labored five-set victory in January measured 45. Nadal’s prodigal ability to generate kick and spin is accentuated on slower courts. The fact that Federer found the angles and speed needed to negate Nadal on the ad-court creates a new dynamic in the final phase of their legenadary rivalry. It was fascinating to watch the Swiss star imagine and execute sustained aggression against his arch rival..
‘Age is just a number’ might be one of the most abused phrases in sport. But Federer is clearly bent on proving the hypothesis with his compelling performances on the court.
For tennis fans, there cannot be a better spectacle in sport than watching Federer in full flow. The interest in the season that lies ahead will certainly fly a couple of orbits higher with Federer’s victory over Nadal last night.
Updated Date: Mar 16, 2017 16:35:41 IST