Less than a fortnight after deciding it was time to risk his suspect left knee on a hard court for the first time in nearly a year, Rafael Nadal recorded the most remarkable result of his comeback so far when he beat Roger Federer 6-4, 6-2 in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters.
Nadal, who confirmed his appearance in California only after winning his third comeback tournament on clay in Acapulco earlier this month, had warned he had little idea what to expect on his return to hard courts, but on the evidence of his latest victory the 26-year-old Spaniard is on course to recapture former glories.
Although Federer was troubled by a back problem, Nadal shocked the world No 2 with the sheer quality of his play, especially given the fact this was only his fourth tournament since returning after seven months out.
“My movement tonight was much better than yesterday,” Nadal said afterwards. “I played a fantastic first set in my opinion. Sometimes I am not able to play all the shots with my forehand that I used to because I am not that fast yet to do it. That’s why the backhand today is very important for my game.
“But it is a big surprise for me to have these results because I really was not able to practise a lot. I was able to practise just a little before the comeback.”
Federer, who was the defending champion and had beaten Nadal in their last meeting in this tournament a year ago, said he had not been surprised by the Spaniard’s form. “He’s not going to come back if he’s not well,” Federer said. “He’s not going to come back half-broken.”
The 31-year-old Swiss, who could soon lose his No 2 spot in the world rankings to Andy Murray, was playing his last tournament before a seven-week break. He is not due to return until the Madrid Masters in May, though his plans may change after what he called “a really difficult week” in Indian Wells because of the back issue.
In the semi-finals Nadal will play Tomas Berdych, who maintained his record of not losing a set in the tournament so far by beating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4. In last night’s remaining quarter-finals Murray was playing Juan Martin del Potro, while Novak Djokovic faced Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.