Rafael Nadal pounced on half-strength rival Roger Federer, taking advantage of the second seed’s back injury to earn a 6-4, 6-2 trip into the semifinals of the Indian Wells Masters on Thursday.
The Spanish fifth seed will play on Saturday for a spot in the finals against Tomas Berdych, who beat South African Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4.
The Federer-Nadal match was watched by American legends Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, who cut the template for the long-time rivalry between Federer and Nadal.
“I know Roger was not at his 100 per cent, but I’m very happy to be in the semifinals,” said Nadal.
“I’m glad to be back in competition after being out injured for so long. Every match you play with Roger is special.”
Federer supplied little detail about his condition, other than saying he felt the same in a win 24 hours earlier over Stanislas Wawrinka.
“At least I could serve full basically, and that always gives you a direction,” said the 17-time Grand Slam winner. “And then if (the back) was bothering in some moments that’s a problem for me to have, but not for me to talk about too much because I don’t like to undermine his performance.
“It’s obviously a small issue, that doesn’t work against guys like Rafa.”
Federer hung tough in the opening set despite facing break points, finally dropping serve on a pass to trail 3-4. Two games later, he saved two set points for Nadal to stay in touch 4-5. But after saving one more a game later, the Spaniard closed out the set with a service winner, 6-4.
Federer went down a double break in the second set, got one back but was then broken for 5-2 on the way to the exits a game later, with Nadal double-faulting away one match point but converting on a second.
“The longer the match went on, I realised I had to change up my game,” said Federer. “I played differently than I was hoping to be able to. “Obviously he got more comfortable as the match went on, as well. Things became difficult. Once I was down a set I knew it was going to be difficult.”
In women’s play, German Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark moved into a semifinal as both advanced through injury walkovers.
Kerber, the fourth seed, reached the final four as seventh-seeded opponent Samantha Stosur withdrew with a calf injury.
A few hours after Stosur packed it in, Azarenka did the same, succumbing to ankle tendinitis that has bothered her for several weeks.