Federer Stuns Nadal In Straight Sets
Channeling the same game plan that reaped the ultimate reward in the Australian Open final in January, Roger Federer has put on a stunning display of aggression to defeat fifth seed Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open. The four-time champion prevailed 6-2, 6-3 to set a quarter-final showdown with Australian Nick Kyrgios, after the Australian’s earlier upset of defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Federer’s victory marked the first time he had defeated Nadal three times in a row in 36 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, following his five-set triumph in Melbourne in January and a three-set win in the 2015 Basel final.
The last time Nadal tasted victory was in the 2014 Australian Open semi-finals. This was the first time the pair had squared off before the quarter-finals since their first meeting in the 2004 Miami Open third round.
“It's a nice feeling to win the last three, I can tell you that,” Federer said. "But most importantly, I won Australia. That was big for me. On the comeback, I look back at that and think that was one of the coolest things I ever experienced in my career.
“Basel was special, too, for many reasons, because I used to be a ballboy there. After the Australian hype, to play here in America right away, all of them are very special.
“All the matches that we have played are unique in many ways for both of us, winning or losing. So I take it. Obviously I can't celebrate too long this time around. I have to get back to work in a couple of days.”
Nadal had worked himself into a winning position when he led a break for 3-1 in the fifth set in the Australian Open decider before losing the final five games of the match. In the Californian desert on Wednesday, however, he was never given a sniff of hope.
“In Australia, it was a very close match. I had good chances to win,” Nadal said. “Today, not. Today he played better than me … These kind of matches, when you're not playing your match, it is impossible to win.
“When Roger has the advantage, his serve is so good, he has a lot of confidence with his serve, he’s able to play much more relaxed.”
Next up, a revenge mission against the 21-year-old 15th seed, Kyrgios. The only time prior the pair has met, it was the Australian who emerged victorious in the round of 32 at the ATP World Tour Madrid Masters in 2015.
“I'm very impressed him taking out Novak, back-to-back weeks, on Novak's best surface,” Federer said. “I hope it's going to lead to something great for Nick, that he realises if he puts his head down and focuses that he can bring it, day in and day out, week in and week out.
“When it matters the most against the best and in finals, he's there … Of course I'd like to get him back.”
A four-time champion in Indian Wells, Federer came out of the blocks in a hurry against Nadal. The Swiss ninth seed secured the opener 6-2, consistently finding his mark coming over the backhand to keep the three-time champion on the back foot.
Federer brought up a break point in the opening game and converted when Nadal shanked a forehand into the stands for 1-0. He faced just his first break point of the tournament in the subsequent game but steadied to hold for 2-0 and would not face another for the remainder of the match.
The Swiss delivered impressively off the backhand wing. His fifth backhand winner of the first set was followed by an explosive wrong-footing forehand winner to bring up a break point on the Spaniard’s serve at 3-1.
He secured the double break off a spectacular backhand return winner for 4-1 after 23 minutes. He would close out the opening set in style as he threaded back-to-back forehand winners to bring up two set points and sealed it on his first with a serve-volley winner after 34 minutes.
“I think the backhand has gotten better because I have been able to put in so many hours with the [new] racquet now,” Federer said of his more aggressive approach off the backhand. “Really, since this year I feel super comfortable with the racquet, and I think I have also gained confidence stepping into it.
“I think all my coaches throughout my career have told me to go more for the backhand, but I used to shank more. So maybe deep down I didn't always believe that I had it in the most important moments. But I think that's changing little by little, which I'm very happy about.”
Determined to make a statement he would not go quietly, Nadal started the second set with authority, holding to love with a forehand winner and an ace out wide for 1-0. Federer’s aggression continued to gnaw at Nadal, however.
His confidence surged further when he broke early for 2-1 and now redlining, the pressure from the 36-year-old Swiss was relentless. He held to love for 4-2 off an ace out wide and drew the error from a looping backhand.
Nadal was rarely in control of a point throughout and when serving to stay in the match, a forehand clipped the net and failed to trickle over handing Federer two match points. He took it on his first with a crisp backhand return winner into the corner, capping a complete performance in which his backhand, return of serve and net approaches were on song.