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

  1. Rafa’s FH really isn’t the shot it once was. The biggest mistake in his career is not to acquire a better serve, just imagine how good he can be with a better serve!

    • Rafa has a bad day when he misses even the easy shots. It reminds me of his Miami final vs Davy in 2008; he looked out of sorts and lost meekly.

      I think he lacks/lacked confidence playing against players who beat him in their previous meeting(s). If this is Djoko and not Fed, I would expect Rafa to be so poor too, and that’s why I so wanted him to win Acapulco to at least make him believe he can win a title on the HC again.

  2. Average net clearance on Rafa’s backhand has always been a good barometer for me. He is giving so much air to his backhands. Keeping it safe. Afraid to go for it.

  3. Fed is just hitting way bigger and playing way more aggressive and his serve is just way better. Rafa could adjust his court positioning better on the return but overall Roger is taking it to Rafa and earning this win.

    • Yep, Fed deserves this win. Rafa could have played more inside the court instead of camping behind the baseline all the time, which to me was why his shots were landing short most of the time. By stepping inside the court, at least he could take the ball earlier, hit it deep to the corners hence pushing Fed back and rushing him and took away his time.

      Rafa was making it so comfortable for Fed to hit to anywhere he wanted; just like Querrey in the Acapulco final, and most big hitters Rafa faced. To me the problem with Rafa is that he rarely starts a match being the aggressor, and hence allowing an aggressive opponent to take control early in a match and then Rafa has to give chase most of the time; that’s energy consuming and it’s not doing his often injured body any favor.

      I do feel Rafa can do better on the quicker courts as he tends to grind less on quicker surfaces, knowing that defense is not the way to win on quicker courts so he tends to play more aggressively on quicker surfaces.

      Rafa is winning most of their (Fedal) HC encounters on outdoor courts; he’s 3-1 at AO; 2-1 at Miami but funny thing is Fed is better at IW now (Fed 2-1) even though we say the IW court has higher bounces thus favoring Rafa. Rafa won their only two fast outdoor HCs encounters prior to this AO – Dubai (2006) and Cincy (2013).

  4. Even after Rafa is stepping back on return Roger is still controlling the tempo. He’s just hitting too well and playing too sharp.

  5. I was initially of the opinion that there is not much Rafa can do here but the last few games, he has really really been atrocious. Forget the forehand, even the backhand is SHIT

  6. At the end of the day, the aggressive player should win, just like Kyrgios vs Djoko.

    I can’t stand this Rafa, he’s playing not to lose, not playing to win. He hardly moves away from the baseline, not going to beat Fed like this.

  7. Feds greatest satisfaction is dominating. After surgery and considering his age it just happened that he and Ljubicic decided to go for it, get back to shape and enjoy. But this seemingly worked as general gameplan?

  8. Embarrassing. On a slow hard court.
    Very well played Fed. Perfect strategy. Fed looks unstoppable this year.

    What I think is that Rafa could be in for some more losses against Fed. I won’t be surprised to see even a loss on clay against Fed. Fed will be the favourite actually until Rafa beats him. This could just be like the losing streak to Novak before Rafa finally made changes and developed patterns to beat Novak.

    Thing is, when you’ve been doing something for a decade and having so much success, it gets ingrained in your muscle memory. Rafa has some ‘bad old habits’ given fed has evolved.

    Yeah, if his forehand is working at full flow, backhand has penetration, he can hang with federer like he did at the AO. Thing is, he is low on confidence and Fed is on the 7th sky.

    • It’s not just low in confidence, he has lost his power and I’m sure he won’t be getting that back as he’s no longer young.

      He has to evolve, can’t just rely on his groundstrokes to win points. He’s hitting short yet not making adjustments to his court position, still hitting from the same spot like ten years ago, not going to work.

      Rafa and his team have to come to terms with reality, that he’s no longer that powerful or quick enough to play his old game so he must make changes.

      If he can’t do that then I’m truly disappointed with him, for Fed at an older age is willing and able to evolve, if Rafa can’t then I think he’s just not that great after all.

      I may sound negative but that’s how I feel about this; Rafa has stopped improving, in fact has regressed while his main rivals all have improved; even a slumping Djoko still could fight harder than this Rafa.

      • How did Rafa make it to the AO final up a break in the final deciding set if that’s truly the case Lucky?

        (Hint: it’s not)

        • Hawkeye, you have to also consider Fed’s path to the final, not easy after two five setters against two top ten players. Fed at 35 also was feeling the fatigue even though he had another extra day of rest. If it’s the Fed of 2009, Fed would probably win in three or four sets.

          Rafa was also helped by Djoko’s early departure at the AO, I’m sure he won’t beat Djoko should they meet in the SF.

  9. Rafa poor by any standard. Fed just plays his usual aggressive game.

    So, March is half way through now, can we so called judge Rafa’s level so far this year? Very disappointing performance in this match, very. Anti climatic for those who expect another blockbuster, its almost like a no show by Rafa!

    • Yeah but fed’s backhand is a much bigger weapon now. He doesn’t win need to spread the court to find a chance to hit his big forehand. He can now generate so much pace on his backhand too. On high balls as well. He is now also more comfortable in re-directing Rafa’s topspin shots.

      Rafa was, however, BEYOND TERRIBLE. His mind was frozen, there was no energy, his forehand was like a challenger-level player and backhand was brimming with doubts and hesitation and fear.

      • Yeah true about Rafa VR but he didn’t start like that even though he was broken early.

        Fed just took it to him and Rafa eventually this was Fed 2.0.

        Federer has simply never played better than at 35. This Fed would beat any prior version of Fed. Handily.

  10. What I said about the fast AO conditions?

    Yeah scratch all that.

    I can own up to when I’m wrong.

    Too good.

    Three months in and old man fed is the man to beat again and leading the Race by a healthy margin leaving the rest of the big four in his dust.

    Wow.

    G___?

  11. TBH Rafa was not himself in this match. There was no enthusiasm, his footwork was terible, he looked so slow out there! He lacked fighting spirit, he did not even sweat as he used to. Not to take anything away from Fed, he was really playing well but it’s kind of easy to look extraordinary against this Rafa…

  12. I think I would have to put $ on either Kyrgios or Fed winning the title at this point. Although, the way things are panning out thus far this season, who the hell knows who will win this thing!

  13. I don’t think Nick will beat Fed…too much respect for Maestro although Nick has beaten him before…Nick is always motivated against Rafa, not sure he would be the same when Fed is on the other side of the net…I would love to see Nick play his best tennis but that’s highly unlikely…of course Fed willl be one of the reasons for Nick not executing his best shots…

  14. RT @carole_bouchard: Has Federer’s BH improved a lot ? Yes. Is he facing the vintage Rafa FH ? No. These two facts combined = the score.

    Yeah to be fair to Rafa, some truth there.

    Fed often comes out flying against Rafa but Rafa wilted instead of rising to the occasion.

    Not so certain it would have been enough in this case. Difficult to say for sure.

  15. RT @BenRothenberg: Roger Federer is #1 in Race to London with a 590-pt lead over second, and this is only his third tournament. He’s 35 years old, in theory.

    Well I just hope that you not comparing prime Fed with peak fed. Don’t you? Or do you.

    • I think he will continue to play like crap at Miami; Miami not a place that suits him. I’ll foresee another early loss; even though I so wish for him to win it this time and then from next year onwards, stops going to IW and Miami.

      Next year he can be exempted from playing any or all of these events so might as well he concentrates on his European clay season. It’s sad to say that I now think that he’s not going to win on the HCs, not with the likes of his big rivals plus the new comers being better than him.

      • Nah, he can’t meet Fed before semi finals in Miami. Rafa is No. 6 and Fed will be No. 7 next week at least unless he passes Rafa for No. 6 by winning IW.

        Rafa can beat this Nole and this Murray in the quarters = assuming Nolandy can actually make a quarter final/ They haven’t been fairing well so far this year. Rafa’s been better than either of them.

        • I think Rafa actually has a good shot at Miami, assuming he plays well. Even though he’s never won it, he consistently goes deep and has made, what, 4 finals? And although the ball may not bounce as high as at IW, the courts in Miami are still relatively slow because it is so damn humid. So I think Rafa has a puncher’s chance. Honestly, if Federer ends up winning IW, or even just makes the final, I really wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled out of Miami… I think he’s still trying to be cautious about not re-injuring himself. Do you think he would withdraw from Miami if he wins IW, Hawk?

        • I don’t think they adjust the seeding at Miami after IW. I think for this two events, they used their rankings cutoff before IW.

  16. If fed keeps up this level at the big events for the rest of the season, he could hit top 3 for sure. To be honest I think Novak will be outside top 3 at some point this year maybe not end up outside top 3 but at one point I think he will be. Djoker has started to improve his level lately but has run into the red hot monster serve of Kyrgios and this may dent his confidence again and send him into that post RG form again.

  17. Like I said, confidence would win. The only thing that Fed did slightly better years ago was his forehand. Everything else is simply just as good if not better.

    Roger on his new racquet and overall play:

    “I can play in different ways even though I was able to do that way back then as well but I’m just able to step into the court much easier than I ever have and because I can do that… I don’t know I think by coming over my backhand on the backhand on the return at the beginning of the point I can dominate points from the start.”

    “But with the racquet I can just have easier power, I can come over the backhand without shanking as much and then I gain CONFIDENCE and once you have the CONFIDENCE it’s much easier to step in.”

    https://twitter.com/TennisChannel/status/842199793447321600

    And those highlight points with Rafa serving at 1-3 in the first, Rafa is serving and not hitting that short early in the match.

  18. Smelt this happening..was not sure why many were confident here about Rafa

    The AO loss has planted a demon in Rafas head vs Fed and Fed is the favourite now till Rafa beats him. I will never pick against Fed vs Rafa going forth, even on clay till Rafa beats him . Rafa is a confidence player and he is not high on it now.

    Surprised to see Novak losing twice in a row against Kyrgios

    • If Rafa continues to play like crap like this, how’s he going to beat Fed again and reverse this losing streak?

      I think if Rafa keeps losing to his main rivals, he may say bye bye come next year or the year after. He said it himself, if he can’t improve, he may call it quit.

      • luckystar (AT 7:07 AM),

        Rafa has repeatedly said (and repeated it again at the Banco Sabadell event in Acapulco in February) that he has no plans to retire from pro tennis any time soon.

    • Sanju (AT 4:59 AM),

      I have replied you a zillion times that I always believe in Rafa BECAUSE I’m his fan. That’s the meaning of being a fan.

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