Roger Federer looks to return to the BNP Paribas Open final at Indian Wells on Saturday when he takes on first-time Masters 1000 semi-finalist Jack Sock.
After emerging from the ‘quarter of death’, Roger Federer seeks a third successive final at Indian Wells - not counting last year which he missed through injury - against a man who has landed in uncharted Masters 1000 territory in the Californian desert this week, American firebrand Jack Sock. Federer will be competing in his 56th Masters 1000 semi-final, while Sock will be playing his first - against arguably the greatest player of all time no less. Furthermore, Federer has glided into the final four without the loss of a set and also benefitted from a walkover in the quarter-finals. Sock, by contrast, has battled his way into the semis with four consecutive three-set victories. All signs point to a Federer triumph on Saturday, but stranger things have happened, and Sock - in career-best form - has absolutely nothing to lose. Don’t miss any of the action as Federer and Sock collide on Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Federer’s stunning comeback to tennis continues to generate substantial steam, and after a fairytale triumph at the Australian Open in January, the Swiss legend appears to be in the box seat as we approach the business end of the Indian Wells Masters. There were some small question marks surrounding Federer as he arrived in California after he suffered a timid loss to qualifier Evgeny Donskoy at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in his first tournament since Melbourne, but the 35-year-old has answered those claims emphatically over the course of the last week.
Opening with a swift 6-2 6-1 victory over fellow veteran Stephane Robert, Federer was confronted with a fairly tough challenge against Steve Johnson in the third round, ultimately prevailing in two tiebreaks in a match where no player broke serve. But it was his vintage performance against great rival Rafael Nadal in the Round of 16 that spawned headlines across the world. Federer played arguably his best tennis in years - including the Australian Open - as he completely and utterly outplayed Nadal for the loss of just five games in a sublime 6-2 6-3 win. Federer produced some sparkling tennis, especially off his generally weaker backhand side, and served impeccably in what was a memorable display.
Obviously in tremendous form, the entire tennis community was eagerly anticipating a blockbuster quarter-final clash with rising Australian Nick Kyrgios, who was coming off his second win over three-time defending BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic in as many weeks. However unfortunately the match never eventuated, as Kyrgios was struck down by suspected food poisoning.
“I was actually really looking forward to the match,” Federer said. “That's just how tennis goes. It's a pity, but I'm really happy with my time in Indian Wells and hopefully I'm going to play a good match tomorrow.”
Clearly Federer is in a great place right now - and he admitted as such during an on-court interview on Stadium 1 on Friday, saying he was grateful at finally being able to compete in full health after a frustrating 2016 campaign.
“The six months off last year was really difficult. I played one tournament last year where I felt normal and that was the Australian Open. At all the other tournaments, I was sick, hurt, injured or not well.
“To be back on court, feeling normal again is so nice and you feel like you're happy and fresh and I'm trying to show that to the people. I think it's translating to my game also. I can play freely and take chances like I have nothing to lose. Might be one of the first times in a long, long time that I've felt this way. It's incredible that it's paying off in my results. I still feel like I'm on the comeback and we'll see what the year brings.”
The year has already been a memorable one for Federer, and it looks likely to get even better over the next couple of days in the Californian desert.
Jack Sock (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
However Jack Sock will have other ideas. The 24-year-old has experienced a fantastic start to the season, capturing ATP titles at Auckland and Delray Beach, reaching the third round of the Australian Open (lost to Tsonga in four sets), and cracking the top 20 on the back of this glorious run to his first ever Masters 1000 semi-final at Indian Wells.
Sock has already registered 15 wins on tour this season - more than Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer - but late signs from 2016 indicate that his current run of form shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Sock finished last year with consecutive Masters 1000 quarter-final appearance at Shanghai and Paris, while he also reached the final of Stockholm. Having improved his year-end ranking for the last six seasons, Sock is certainly a player on the rise, but the question is, how much higher can he go?
Well, if he can upset Federer on Saturday, he will crack the top 15, which would be a superb achievement - and in my eyes - an unexpected one. Sock is your classic contemporary American player - big serve and forehand but with a suspect backhand at times. He still has the tendency to throw in some loose matches, such as an opening round loss in Acapulco to Yoshihito Nishioka and losing a set 6-0 to qualifier Henri Laaksonen in his Indian Wells opener earlier this week.
However Sock has demonstrated some outstanding resolve this week, coming through four consecutive three-set battles against Laaksonen, Grigor Dimitrov - who has been in superb form this season - Malek Jaziri and fourth seed Kei Nishikori in Friday’s quarter-finals. Sock, who also saved match points against Dimitrov, overpowered Nishikori in their last eight clash, dictating with his forehand in a 6-2 2-6 6-2 triumph.
Federer and Sock have played twice before on tour - both in 2015, where Federer won a pair of straight set matches at Indian Wells and Basel. Sock is a much better player now, but the problem for him is that - maybe bizarrely - Federer is too. I can’t remember the last time Federer produced the sort of tennis he did against Nadal, and that has to be ominous for Sock come Saturday. The American will have to go for everything on serve and with his forehand to have a chance, but I think Federer - in this sort of form - will secure his spot in the final with another straight sets win.