A typical Federer vs. Nadal match is not unlike an exquisite dish you would expect in a fancy restaurant. That rich and succulent tennis these two serve made of those delicately put together points, a combination of good-old fashioned finesse with bold and conspicuous strength, all topped with a generous dressing of brilliance.
In short, it makes your mouth water.
However, their most recent offering was closer to street food than to fine dining – tangy and unpredictable, yet brilliant and enjoyable.
After close to four hours of delay due to rain in the Californian desert of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the venue for the 28th instalment of this contest, when the match finally got under way, it was under very tricky conditions – gusty winds and a chilly temperature of around 12° Celsius. And generally, variable conditions are something Nadal enjoys more than Federer. This is illustrated by both Nadal’s success in rain affected matches and Federer’s in indoors.
The start was a déjà vu from their last match in the Australian Open. Federer racing to a 3-0 lead and Nadal catching up to make it 3-3. But even in these opening rallies it was evident that something in the Rafa machinery was not functioning properly. Federer on the other hand, seem unperturbed by the conditions. Serving with a first-serve percentage higher than in the rest of the tournament, he was able to blaze away winner after winner with ease. In the next three games in which Federer won 15 out of 20 points, including a chaseable drop shot at set-point, to clinch the set 6-3.
Having passed through one déjà vu, many Federer fans might have been fearing another one in the second set, given what happened in that match in Australia. But their worries were short lived. Federer carried his first-set form into the second and Nadal carried his woes. A terrible sounding forehand and a moan of a serve, both of which barely reached the net gave Federer an opportunity to go up two breaks of serve, surely enough to settle the match for good. Nadal held on in that game from 15-40 down, but was broken the next time he had to serve, giving Federer his first chance to serve for the match.
But if there ever was a match in which Rafa did not put up a resistance then you are making things up. With what was, surprisingly, only his 2nd, 3rd and 4th forehand winners of the match, Nadal broke Federer and completed his hold to ask Federer to serve again for the match. Once more he went ahead to a 15-30 lead before the drama turned all the way up.
After bringing the scores to 30-30, the crowd witnessed one of the best rallies of the match, in which control switched almost after every two or three shots. Eventually a net-corded back hand set the ball for Nadal to play a cross-court backhand which pulled Federer wide on his forehand setting up a short ball for Nadal to dispatch cross court for a clean winner. Only, it struck the net cord and stayed on his side. It started to rain and play gets halted at Match Point. Both players were asked to sit while the chair-umpire examined the court for signs of slipperiness. After a few minutes of mopping the lines, during which the players and the crowd were twitching and buzzing loudly, play resumed. And in one swift motion, Federer fired his 6th ace of the match to clinch victory in 1 hour and 31 minutes.
Back in the final for the first time since his third title here in 2006, Federer will face-off against John Isner. The tall American shocked the entire tennis world by defeating World No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic. Already assured of a top 10 place, victory in the final will make him the top ranked American, surpassing Mardy Fish. Having defeated Federer earlier this year in a Davis Cup tie, his odds are certainly good as he looks to stop the Swiss from claiming a record-equalling 19 masters titles and claiming his first.