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Battling Nadal overcomes Khachanov and knee injury to set up Indian wells clash against Federer

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 16 Mar 2019
  • Rafael Nadal overcame Karen Khachanov 7-6 7-6 to move set up an Indian Wells semi-final meeting with Roger Federer
  • Nadal struggled with a knee injury during his quarter-final against Khachanov
Nadal received medical attention on his knee early in the second set. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal battled through a knee injury and a game Karen Khachanov to reach the Indian Wells semi-finals for the tenth time in his career, setting up a hugely-anticipated clash against great rival, Roger Federer.

While trailing 1-2 in the second set, Nadal requested for the trainer, who wrapped some taping around the Spaniard’s right knee, and for a few games after that, there was a nervousness around Stadium 1, with the Spaniard clearly struggling and looking like he might not complete the match. Nadal grimaced, limped, shook his head, and was unusually hyper-aggressive, wanting to finish points early to protect the injury. The speed of his serve also fell significantly, as he struggled to push up on his right knee. There appeared to be a real chance of a retirement at that point.

However, with a potential semi-final against Federer on the horizon, Nadal hung in there. As the match progressed, his health improved, and he produced a magnificent second-set tie break, just like he had done in the opening set, to complete a hard-fought 7-6 7-6 victory over the Russian.

Khachanov was seeking his first ever victory over Nadal, and he signaled his intentions very early on with a booming backhand winner in the first point of the match, en route getting the break in the opening game. However, from 1-3 down, Nadal began to find his range, winning 12 of the next 14 points to rein in Khachanov and regain some degree of control on the match. The Russian, who was on a nine-match winning streak in Masters 1000 matches came up with some inspired tennis to fend off four set points at 4-5, but he was powerless in the ensuing tie break, as Nadal shifted through the gears to take a high-quality set of tennis.

Nadal's forehand was again pivotal in his victory over Khachanov. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Nadal applied early pressure on Khachanov in the second set, but failed to convert any of two break points at 1-1. It was at this point that his knee threatened to cave in. The injury also seemed to have an effect on Khachanov, who appeared uncertain on how to approach the match from there, and gifted the ailing Nadal a break with in the fifth game of the set. Nadal could not consolidate, handing back the break in the next game. 

With Nadal's knee not feeling great, it was almost imperative that he closed this out in two sets, while Khachanov must have known that his chances of winning the match would be greatly boosted if he could drag the match into a deciding set. Khachanov’s moment came at 5-4, when he brought up set point on Nadal's serve with a stunning backhand pass, but he made a complete mess of a half volley on the next point, letting the Spaniard off the hook. It was a missed opportunity he would live to regret, as Nadal composed another dominant tie break to take the set, and the match after two hours and 16 minutes, earning his sixth straight victory over the Russian.

“It’s not every day you get to play a quarter-final in Indian Wells, so I just tried to be focused and give my best,” said Nadal. “I’m just happy to be in the semi-finals. It’s a beautiful thing for me and I’m happy with the way I’ve played the whole event.”

There is of course a chance that Nadal could opt out of his semi-final against Federer if he thinks he can't compete due to his knee injury, but the great Spaniard is hopeful of taking to the court on Saturday.

“I love to play on hard, but my body doesn't love it that much… I am used to playing with some issues, so I just tried to be focused,” said Nadal. “Of course, my goal is to be ready for tomorrow…[but] I cannot guarantee how I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning.”

If he indeed takes to the court, it will be the 39th instalment of this great rivalry between himself and Federer, with the Spaniard boasting a 23-15 lead. However, he has been second best in their recent meetings, as he has lost five in a row against his Swiss rival. Can he end that losing streak on Saturday? 

“It’s 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 and competing for the most important things,” said Nadal. “All these things always make the matches really special between us. It’s beautiful to have the chance to keep competing at the highest level in advanced rounds, in the most important events, at this late part of our tennis careers."

Nadal vs Federer is live from Indian Wells on Saturday, 16 March from 12:30pm local time/ 7:30pm GMT. Read the full match preview.

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Battling Nadal overcomes Khachanov and knee injury to set up Indian wells clash against Federer

Rafael Nadal played through the pain barrier to defeat Karen Khachanov in the Indian Wells quarter finals, setting up a semi-final showdown with great rival, Federer

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