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Rafa Nadal‘s Injury Scare Ahead Of His Desert Duel With Roger Federer By Alix Ramsay

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Karen Khachanov of Russia during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 15 March 2019. The men's and women's final will be played, 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/RAY ACEVEDO
Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Karen Khachanov of Russia during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 15 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played, 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/RAY ACEVEDO

 

 

And it had all been going so well. There was Rafa, playing well, feeling fine and standing within sight of the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals and a 39th meeting with Roger Federer. And then his knee started to give him gyp and everything was left in limbo.

 

That Raf managed to beat the big, strong and aggressive Karen Khachanov 7-6, 7-6 was impressive enough. He was playing catch up at the start of the first set but even when he broke back held four set points on the Russian’s serve, he was not having things his own way. Until the tiebreak.

 

But that Raf went on to do much the same in the second set was more impressive still. On serve but trailing 1-2, the Spaniard called for the trainer and whispered into the medic’s ear (he didn’t want the TV cameras and mics to pick up what he was saying). His right knee needed attention; it was a recurrence of the old problem. This was not good.

 

After some careful taping of his fragile joint, he went on to break for a 3-2 lead but he could not hold on to that advantage. Now our Raf was in a dog fight and his knee was hurting. Yet his pain threshold is the stuff of legend and, refusing to miss the chance of another semi-final place in the desert, Raf allowed Khachanov just two points in the second tiebreak. He was through to meet Rodge. Or, rather, he was through to see how he felt on Saturday morning before that 39th meeting. But just getting there was something that he would remember for a while.

 

“It’s one of these victories today that I am really proud of,” Rafa said. “Hopefully [I can play tomorrow]. It’s difficult for me to answer. Nobody can guarantee anything about what can happen the next day because, in this world, anything can happen. But of course my goal and my idea is be ready for tomorrow. Then happened what happened on court, so I cannot guarantee how I going to wake up tomorrow morning.”

 

That did not sound particularly promising. And yet, the two old warriors relish these matches and if it is at all possible, Rafa will be ready and waiting (even if he is walking gingerly on that right knee) for his chance to reach his fifth final in Indian Wells.

 

For those of you who want the nuts and bolts of Saturday’s match, here you go: it is their 39th meeting; Rafa leads their career rivalry 23-15; Fed has won two of their three matches in Indian Wells; Fed leads their hard court rivalry 11-9. Oh, and he has won their last five hard court matches.

 

Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 15 March 2019. The men's and women's final will be played, 17 March 2019.  EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

Roger Federer of Switzerland in action against Hubert Hurkacz of Poland during the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, USA, 15 March 2019. The men’s and women’s final will be played, 17 March 2019. EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

But that misses the point of the story. Rodge is fit, playing well and – as we type this – uninjured. Raf is not sure if he will be able to get through his next match. Not only that, but he has not beaten Rodge since the Australian Open 2014. If Rodge was the favourite as play began on Friday, he was the odds-on favourite by the time the men’s quarter-finals were over.

 

The Mighty Fed eased his way into the last four with a fairly routine 6-4, 6-4 over the unheralded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

 

Hurkacz has spent the past 10 days grinning from ear to ear. He is a terribly nice fella – polite, unassuming and, seemingly, just happy to be here – but he is also a fine player in the making. Ranked No.67, the Pole stands 6ft 5ins (the vast majority of which is leg) and, for one so tall, weighs in a meagre 179lbs. He is a light Pole.

 

But thin or not, he can clatter the ball from the baseline, he has a belting serve and he is not afraid to come forward. There were times when he and the maestro had the crowd enthralled with all that scrambling-retrieving- improvising stuff. The sort of stuff you very rarely see Fed having to do. For a 22-year-old whose best results have come on the Challenger circuit, Hurkacz was playing a blinder.

 

Gradually, our Hubert is pushing further and further into the bigger tournaments – his run to the quarter-finals in Dubai two weeks ago pushed him up to his current, career-high ranking. His run to the last eight here will hoik him up event further to around No.53 next Monday. His problem was that he was playing a bloke who just last year was the world No.1 and who has made a career out of winning events, not just doing quite well at them.

 

True, Hubert had his chances, but whenever he tried to push Fed, Fed pushed back. And he pushed smarter, harder and with far more success.

 

“I feel good, you know, playing matches now,” Federer said. “Not I haven’t in the past, but I think it was another one of those matches where, you know, I think I don’t need too many chances to break. I got clear playing patterns.

 

“I’m holding my serve comfortably. I’m in a good place mentally when I go into my service games. I think it showed this week thus far, you know. So I hope I can keep that up. Against Rafa you need it, obviously, if it’s against him, but also against Khachanov.

 

“At this stage of the tournament, anyway, you have to bring your best game. Personally, I’m very excited to be in the semis here. Not that I didn’t expect it, but it definitely went better than I thought it would.”

 

It was the Pole’s dream to play his idol in a big match on a big stage and even if Fed turned that dream into a bit of a nightmare, it was still an experience the lovely Hubert would not have missed for the world.

 

“I was trying to compete, to fight, and believe that I can do it,” Hurkacz said I mean, Roger was playing great in the crucial moments. I had some small chances in the second set.

 

“But, yeah, I mean, today was a great lesson for me. Yeah, I’m taking it for the next tournament. Playing on such a huge stadium against Roger Federer, it’s just something different. I mean, still, the match wasn’t one way throughout the whole match. So, I mean, he was playing really, really well. But still, I had some small chances, so also give me motivation to work and to get there sometime.”

 

And with another win under his belt, the Mighty Fed will be chock-full of motivation to take on his old – and ailing – foe in the semi-final.

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