Tennis fans have grown accustomed to a certain quality when greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal meet, but their quarterfinal match at the BNP Paribas Open did not turn out to be another classic chapter in their storied rivalry.
In the earliest meeting in a regular tournament draw since their first career meeting in 2004, Nadal easily defeated the 17-time Grand Slam champion 6-4, 6-2. It is the eight straight year Nadal has reached the semifinals at Indian Wells.
While Federer, the defending champion, struggled with a delicate back, Nadal looked well on his way to getting back to 100 perfect health after missing seven months, including two Grand Slam events, with a injured left knee.
"My movements [Thursday] were much, much better than what used to be [Wednesday], so very happy for that especially after a long match [Wednesday]," Nadal said. "Two weeks ago I didn't know if I can be here, and tomorrow I will be in semifinals here."
Nadal faced just two break points from Federer during the match which ended in 1 hour 24 minutes.
"I played a fantastic first set," Nadal said. "The second set was strange. Roger didn't fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn't feel enough comfortable to keep fighting."
Federer tweaked his back earlier in the tournament and did not look comfortable all match hitting balls on the backhand side of the court.
"The longer the match went on, I realized I had to change up my game. I played differently than I was hoping to be able to, " Federer said.
Federer did not blame his back for the poor performance saying it hurt the same as when he beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round.
"It's obviously a small issue. That doesn't work against a guy like Rafa," Federer said of his back trouble.
With his No. 2 world ranking in jeopardy, Federer now heads into a short break, skipping the Miami Masters later this month.
Over the past four years, the Nadal-Federer rivalry has slowed, meeting just nine times, three of which in finals.
With Nadal owning the upper hand in the rivalry with 19-10 record, the Spaniard still had nothing but respect for Federer.
"If I think that I am better than him because I beat him I think 19 against 10, I will be very stupid and very arrogant," Nadal said. "I think this is not the case."
Nadal will face No. 6 Tomas Berdych for a place in the final on Saturday.