Indian Wells R4 preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Federer

The bottom quarter of the BNP Paribas Open draw has already witnessed a showdown between rising stars Nick Kyrgios and Alexander Zverev. Additionally, Novak Djokovic is playing Juan Martin Del Potro on Tuesday.

But if you think those matchups are intriguing, wait until Wednesday.

Even though this Masters 1000 has not yet even reached the quarterfinals, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will renew their illustrious rivalry on Wednesday evening in Indian Wells. A spot in the last eight will be at stake when the two all-time greats square off for the 36th time in their careers and for the second time this season. Nadal leads the head-to-head series 23-12, but Federer–of course–most recently triumphed 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in an epic Australian Open final two months ago. If the 35-year-old Swiss prevails once again, their hard-court history against each other will be tied up at nine wins apiece.

Neither player had any real trouble setting up a battle that was eagerly anticipated when the hard-to-believe Indian Wells draw was released almost exactly one week ago. Federer did not break serve a single time against Steve Johnson on Tuesday, but he cruised through two tiebreakers en route to a 7-6(3), 7-6(4) victory. The 18-time Grand Slam champion preceded that result by destroying Stephane Robert 6-2, 6-1 in the second round. He is now 10-1 this season, with his only loss coming at the hands of Evgeny Donskoy in a 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5) Dubai thriller during which Federer squandered three match points, a 5-2 advantage in the third set, and a 5-1 lead in the final tiebreaker.

Nadal booked his spot in the last 16 this fortnight thanks to straight-set defeats of fellow left-handers Guido Pella and Fernando Verdasco. Thus the world No. 6 is bouncing back nicely from a surprising Acapulco final setback against an on-fire Sam Querrey, who had previously upset David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, and Nick Kyrgios in succession.

“Everything,” Nadal said with a smile when asked what makes Federer’s game so special. “Yeah, he has the talent to do very difficult things that looks easy. He’s able to take the ball very early–serve and first shot. He [creates] a lot of winners with the two first shots, no? And then he’s able to take the ball always from inside (the court), and he’s very quick going to the net. If you play short ball, then you know that he [is going to] hit a winner, gonna play [either a] forehand or backhand, go to the net, and you are going to be in big trouble.

“His backhand in Melbourne was one of the best days that I played against him.”

It is true that Federer’s backhand has been outstanding of late, but he also had the benefit in Melbourne of facing Nadal on what amounted to be a relative ice rink compared to Australian Opens of previous years. Those same conditions will not be on display in the California desert, where the courts are slow and the balls bounce high.

Longer rallies will likely be the story on Wednesday, and many of those baseline exchanges will see Nadal successfully employ the strategy that has worked so well for him against Federer in the past: heavy topspin forehands to the backhand side.

Pick: Nadal in 2

74 Comments on Indian Wells R4 preview and prediction: Nadal vs. Federer

    • Melbourne like ice rink? Yet Fed needed a five sets win! And, against a Rafa with one less day rest. Rafa is 30,not 22 so that certainly has/had an impact on him physically. Remember back in 2009, at 22 he was already feeling the strain in the final after his five setter vs Verdasco in the SF, I would expect him to feel even worse this time.

      It depends on which Rafa turns up to play this IW match, I certainly don’t wish to see that one dimensional Rafa of Acapulco final turning up this time.

      • AO Rafa would beat AO Fed at IW.

        However, neither version has been there this week. But Fed has been closer to that level than Rafa.

        That dynamic will have to change today or Fed will extend his winning streak over Rafa to three.

  1. So Rafa vs Fed at 5pm, not so bad for Rafa as he doesn’t need to get used to playing at night in different conditions then.

    I think Rafa will win this one, just hope he can do it efficiently without any walkabout during his match.

    Why are they playing all the R4 matches on Wednesday? Does that mean the final will be on Sat instead of Sunday?

  2. I still like Rafa’s chances in this match. Fed has had his way with his first two opponents, but they are not Rafa. I like to think that Rafa will be ready to take on Fed and get the win.

    I have to go with Rafa, but not sure if it will be 2 or 3 sets.

    • Yeah, like I said, Johnson had such poor ROS and he only knew one way of playing, yet he pushed Fed to two TB sets. Fed served well because he didn’t have much resistance from Johnson.

      As long as Rafa remains calm he can beat this Fed.

    • As Hawks points out confidence is everything for Rafa. Bearing in mind when he arrived in IW he was unable to practise properly due to illness (unspecified) he put up a credible performance against Pella. Against Verdasco he was firing on all four cylinders in the first but then went walkabout in the second set before pulling himself together to finish strongly.

      Here’s hoping he doesn’t let his mind wander against the TMF who is not likely to let him off the hook quite so easily.

      Rafa in 3

      • ed,

        Nice to see you hear posting your thoughts about Rafa and Fed.

        I thought that Rafa played better overall against Nando. I only found out that he wasn’t feeling well when I checked in briefly at VB the other day. That might explain why he didn’t seem that sharp against Pella in his first match.

        Rafa did go a big walkabout in the second set with Nando, but I thought he still was in control. I thought he might have a tougher time with him, but was happy to see him get the win in straight sets, especially given the heat.

        Rafa will absolutely not have the luxury of any letdown against Fed, but I think he knows that. Fed should be feeling confident after beating Rafa in the AO final. But Rafa Ldo knows how to beat Fed.

        I want to see Rafa come out and right the ship with a win against Fed.

  3. ” a relative ice rink compared to Australian Opens of previous years. ”

    Not only AO, but by far the fastest conditions in any HC slam in history.

    And Feds BH only worked against Rafa because Rafa left so many balls short.

    Otherwise Fed would have been pinned behind the baseline as usual.

    Nothing new.

    • A bit over the board. AO this year certainly not as quick a court as the grass at Wimbledon in the 1990s, or even the USO courts then.

      • Yeah it was quick compared to what we’ve had at the AO last decade (OMG can’t believe it’s been a decade since djokovic won his maiden AO title in 2008 and Rafa dominated later– TIME FLIES). But, the courts of the 1990s were surely quicker. I wonder if ITF has given a pace rating for this court so that’s the only exact way. We can judge based on our viewing and from the inputs of players and of course the results of the tournament ( e.g. M.Zverev , V.Williams having so much success). Here are the interesting bits:

        Craig Tiley was actually asked about this. The reporter asked him a direct question that there is locker room talk that the courts are faster to favor some players, esp Fed! He obviously rejected the notion and said many players who are great on clay are also having success here (referred to Stan and RAFA). His logic was stupid. What’s interesting is the explanation he gave regarding the surface:

        ““We did nothing different by design because each year we tell California Products, the company out of the US, to lay the same court as exactly the previous year,” Tiley said. “How courts work on their speed is that when you resurface them, they take a few weeks to slowly increase (speed) and then they hit a plateau and they stay at that plateau for months.”

        So we resurface all the courts every year. We resurface them in October, November and December and I think what happened with the show courts – maybe Rod Laver – is that they were done a little earlier. So at the end of the tournament last year, it was the same speed as the beginning of the tournament this year.”

        iley said upon hearing “interesting” comments from players, officials had tested court speeds daily throughout the tournament. “All the courts,” he said. “We’re a medium to fast surface. We always have been in that range. We’re still in that range. So the range hasn’t changed.”

      • No one mentioned grass. Didn’t know grass was considered hard court. Please read more carefully.

        However, yes, faster than any USO/AO H-A-R-D court S-L-A-M ever when you consider court, balls, and racquet technology. We are talking ball both speed and low bounce.

        • yep the ‘conditions’ were really quick. The balls were lighter and take makes a HUGE difference. The balls were lighter in the 1990s and early 2000s so that really helped some players. Hawkyeye is right about the rackets and string technology as well. It is so much easier to generate pace nowadays.

  4. Australian Open courts were not as fast as modern Wimbledon I would compare them to modern Us Open courts. Neither Fed or Rafa are looking great this tournament and nobody has talked about how Nadal has yet to play a right handed player. Federer 6-4 6-7 6-4

      • I believe that the AO courts were unusually fast this year and fast courts favor Fed. However I don’t believe that’s the only reason Rafa lost the match. He won two sets ergo he could have won a third. I think the loss had more to do with running out of steam after his tough semi final.

          • Another thing about conditions being unusually quicker is that Rafa had uncertainty. He just didn’t know how ‘bad’ it was for him. Plus, Fed’s bigger racket allowed him to generate more pace on his backhands, serve etc so Rafa must have felt really rushed. It still took 5 sets to beat Rafa though.

        • Yep, let’s not forget Rafa had played such a tough semi and had less rest. He was 3-1 up in the fifth and just couldn’t sustain. However, credit to Fed for raising his level to another gear after being down 1-3.

      • Hawkeye, thanks A LOT for sharing this. I love these types of analysis. So yeah, the courts were even quicker than wimby. It would just be that Wimby’s bounce will be lower of course.

        • Lower but only lower by about a ball diameter according to the analysis.

          Wimby 2016 and 2014 AO showed same height, just one ball diameter lower than this
          2017 historical SLAM HARD court statistical outlier as intentional and targeted as it was.

          • Yeah but we don’t know the spins on those serves. I mean a 200 kmh serve would normally be flat but there could be some element. The thing about grass is that it doesn’t respond that much to topspin, esp the week 1 grass of wimby. On the other hand, it is very conducive to underspin. These things make grass unique and it’s easier to rush someone like Rafa.

  5. Federer has looked his age when returning so far this event … I think Nadal will earn more break chances and can win in 3 provided he doesn’t let nerves creep in … he tends to go smaller on offense when he’s feeling the pressure and his 1st serve percentage drops … that beats less consistent players like Verdasco but it won’t beat Fed …

  6. We talked as if Rafa has not played against Fed before! What’s with Rafa has not played against a righty now? I mean Rafa doesn’t start playing tennis only now! He has been playing since Abu Dhabi this year, surely he has/had faced many righties already.

    Rafa has played against Fed 35 times, surely he knows what to expect from Fed.

  7. Federer will win in 2 sets. I cant see Nadal getting any set.

    (Dear Ricky, for the love of God, publish my comment. I do not know why you dont approve my comment)

  8. We have to thanks to Rafa and Roger for every minute of tennis between them.
    Because, till now, any match can be the last duel . For me, it was an it is the most beautiful rivalry in tennis.
    Let”s enjoy this wonderful tennis.

    http://bit.ly/2mJVk2b

  9. Rafa not having played a righty is totally irrelevant! It is very natural for him to play righties. It is lefties who disrupt is patterns a bit. And esp when that righty is Roger, he won’t have any issues adapting.

    • I agree about it not being relevant if Rafa has not played a righty! I think he’s had enough matches against them in his career! LOL!

      Yes, it is the lefties who can disrupt Rafa. If he loses this match, it won’t be because he played a righty!

  10. Nice to see all the predictions, not in to them myself. It’s hard to predict the outcome of a tennis match – too many variables and one bad game can decide the outcome.

    Vamos Rafa!

    • “Nice to see all the predictions, not in to them myself.”

      You just contradicted yourself (again).

      (Rafa’s a 4/6 betting favourite to win the match.)

      Vamos Rafa!

      • How have I contradicted myself? I don’t take predictions seriously, I’m just saying if people believe in them, fair enough. I don’t take betting odds seriously either.

  11. Rafa’s CC forehand to fed’s backhand is, like always, the most important pattern for both players. We saw in Melbourne that Fed crushed backhands and Rafa’s forehand couldn’t do the damage people expected him to. It was a combination of factors that led to this:

    1. Roger’s new racket.

    Rafa was NOT used to playing against Federer’s bigger racket . They played in basel but Fed is now more comfortable with it. In the past Rafa was able to hit the reset button in rallies by hitting high (even if reall short) forehands to Fed’s backhand. He would get away with them and then go for the big forehand. Fed was CRUSHING those backhands and caught Rafa off caught, esp in set 1. I was impressed with Fed hitting so many clean backhand CC winners, which just whistled past Rafa even when Rafa was standing in that corner. What’s interesting was how Fed was able to hit backhand CC winners with acute angles which showed he could so much better control Rafa’s spin in that match.

    2. The court’s were quicker

    The faster conditions made it easier for Fed to implement his attacking game, move forward when needed (even though he won the major pts from the baseline), rush rafa’s back swings and get errors. This point goes hand in hand with the first point. The court had better penetration too so his groundies were more potent.

    3. Rafa’s forehand was inconsistent and well below it’s best level

    Yes, Rafa was not aggressive enough. he hit some great ones but was not too confident on his forehand. Even when it was on serve , like 2-2 or 3-3 in the opening set, I was literally shouting that rafa’s forehand is NOT good enough and he needs to raise the level or he will pay the price. I guess he paid the price as he really let fed believe that the latter could win baseline rallies. He really let fed get in the zone in set 1. Rafa was not hitting forehands DTL often enough. He actually started hitting his forehand better in the 5th but fed just moved to another gear and it was too little too late for Rafa.

    Yes, fed has crushed backhands in the past as well (WTF 2010 and 2011 for e.g.) when conditions were suiting him and Rafa was hitting short but as Rafa said, Fed’s backhand was on another level in AO 17. The bigger racket helped him. Rafa can address it by hitting deeper and starting off aggressively.

  12. How crucial was Fed’s service in that final? I think Fed’s superior first serve was an even bigger factor! He hit so many aces down break point and Rafa just couldn’t hit the spots. Good thing is, he won’t profit that much from his serve on these courts. The courts are slower but with the temparture so high, the ball does fly through the air. I hope rafa’s return game generates more chances.

    This court has a MUCH higher bounce. I remember Murray talking about how difficult he found to adjust to conditions here last year as he arrived quite late. He said balls can literally fly over your head here and he had practised elsewhere on hard courts where bounce was lower. So, with the sun blazing and the ball bouncing high, rafa’s forehand will be tougher to deal with for Fed anyway.

    I will be really surprised if Rafa loses here to be honest. I am really hoping he can stop fed from winning three in a row against him!!! It’s a matter of pride now.

    • I’ll only be surprised if Rafa loses even if his confidence is high.

      Signs of low confidence are hitting short and low serve percentage predominantly caused by hitting into the net (as opposed to long).

      This is an important barometer match on a slower higher bounce hard court well suited to him and will give me an indication for how the rest of the year will go for him.

      A loss here and I don’t hold out for much in the way of hard court results for the rest of the year. I’ll focus on clay.

      A win here will give me hope and belief that Rafa is mentally back.

      • Yeah. All my analysis assumed rafa will play at a good level and won’t have those weird lapses. Rafa MUST win this.

        • Despite his obvious improvements VR, playing without those weird lapses is a rarity at best. He can get away with them against the rest and those lower ranked players he was losing to too often, but it won’t stand against the Big Four IMO.

          He will have to play one of his best matches in the last 12 months to win here.

          • True. But, I am not too sure if Fed will be able to play at his best either. He was average against Johnson. He’ll come out playing quite aggressive and I hope he misses more often 😉

            • Many times players play to the level of their opponent to some degree. I’m hoping that was the case for Rafa against Verdasco. To be fair, I agree with Rafa that he really only had two poor games – when he was broken in the second set and the next game when verdasco consolidated.

              Verdasco really played very poorly.

  13. Rafa serving poorly, if he can’t serve better, he’s doomed to fail. His groundstrokes also lack bites, can’t hurt Fed hitting so short.

    • Yes. I would say the winner of the fed/Rafa vs Kyrgios match wins the event. Stan could of course surprise us as he does at random times lol. Right now I think my pick at the start of the tourney has a great chance to take the title (hint: he’s won 18 slams)

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