A hurting Rafael Nadal is “hopeful” he’ll be ready on Sunday to renew his rivalry with Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the ATP Indian Wells Masters.
The longtime foes have amassed 37 Grand Slam titles between them – Federer with 20 and Nadal with 17 – and built a unique relationship over 15 years and 38 prior matches, not to mention countless promotional and charitable activities off the court together.
“If I don’t see this match as special it’s because I don’t love this sport and I don’t appreciate the story of this sport,” Nadal said after reaching the semi-final showdown with a 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2) victory over Karen Khachanov. “It’s not my case,” he said. “Of course it’s a special match.”
Federer, who defeated Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals, feels the same, saying the contrast in styles and personality between himself and Nadal lend spice to their history.
“The way we go about it is very different, yet we both find a way to excel,” Federer said. “The way he came up was very clay-court based, and I was apparently very grass-court based, and we both found our ways also on the other surface,” Federer said. “It’s been quite a journey with Rafa side by side.”
After 38 career meetings, Nadal leads the series 23-15, but Federer holds a slight 11-9 advantage on hardcourts.
The Swiss great has won the last five in the series, but says that’s of little significance now that it has been almost a year and a half since their last meeting in the Shanghai Masters final in October 2017.
Nadal, too, says the contrast in styles, coupled with the pair’s sheer longevity, makes every meeting something to treasure.
“Different styles, different ways to understand the sport. And at the same time, two players with a good relationship after all the things that we went through in our careers, competing for the most important things,” he said.
There was a shadow hanging over the blockbuster showdown however, after oft-injured Nadal needed treatment to have supportive tape applied to his right knee in his victory over Khachanov.
Just hours earlier Federer had looked forward to the chance to take on a healthy Nadal, after similar knee trouble spelled the end of the Spaniard’s US Open campaign last year, and his US Open campaign last year.
He didn’t play again until the Australian Open, where he fell in the championship match to Novak Djokovic.
Nadal said he hoped to be ready to battle again with Federer, but with a pragmatism born of hard experience he couldn’t help but hedge.
“Of course my goal and my idea is to be ready for tomorrow,” Nadal said. “I cannot guarantee how I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning.”
‘Probably my body doesn’t love hard courts that much’
Despite his undisputed status as king of clay courts, Nadal says he loves hard court tennis, too, he’s just not sure hard courts love him – or any other player.
The 32-year-old Spaniard was contemplating cause and effect after painful knee tendinitis flared up during his quarter-final victory over Khachanov.
Nadal, who said he hoped and expected to be fit for a semi-final showdown with on Sunday, wanted to be careful when asked if he thought playing on hard courts contributed to his history of injury.
“Probably it’s more than 1,100 matches on tour, more than any surface,” the 32-year-old Spaniard said.
But he added that cement-based hard courts, compared to clay and grass courts, do provide more of a pounding.
“I love to play on hard, but probably my body don’t love it that much,” Nadal said. “And my feeling is there are a lot of players that love to play on hard, true, but their bodies don’t love to play on hard, either.”
Nadal noted that most other sports are played on less punishing surfaces such as grass. Although he doesn’t think it will happen in his playing career, Nadal would like to see a more forgiving surface in wider use in tennis.
“It’s not about only during the tennis careers that I am worried,” he said. “When I see some old legends walking around the tour, it’s tough.”