The four-time champion has been drawn in the same quarter as five-time champion Novak Djokovic, three-time titlist Rafael Nadal, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, #NextGenATP star Alexander Zverev and World No. 16 Nick Kyrgios, who's coming off his first win against Djokovic last week in Acapulco.
It's the first time that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have been drawn in the same quarter. They were drawn in the same half for the first time last year in Rome. The Swiss star isn't sure if he's faced a tougher draw during his 20-year career, but he's also not worried.
“It doesn't matter. I've gone through so many draws. I came here to Indian Wells to play against those guys. So it doesn't matter if it's a semi, a final or actually a fourth round,” Federer said during his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday.
The 35 year old can't meet Nadal until the fourth round, but even that isn't a sure bet for Federer, who's returning to Indian Wells for the first time since 2015. Knee surgery last year forced him to miss the tournament after 15 consecutive main draw appearances in the desert.
“It's good to be back here and still on the comeback,” said Federer, who's playing in his third tour-level event of the season. “I'm enjoying practice more than ever and can't wait for the matches to roll around.”
In the third round, Federer could meet former Top 10 player Kevin Anderson or 24th seed and California native Steve Johnson. Next, Federer might face Nadal in the fourth round, which would be the earliest they've met at a tournament since their first meeting in 2004, when they played in the third round in Miami.
Since Nadal took that debut contest, 13 years and 34 more FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings have passed. Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 23-12, but Federer has won their past two contests, including the Australian Open final in January.
If Federer advances past Nadal and the seeds play out on the bottom portion of the draw, Federer will face Djokovic, who's looking to extend his 17-match win streak in the desert and claim his fourth consecutive Indian Wells title. But del Potro, Zverev and Kyrgios also loom in the Serbian's section.
“Most of the guys you won't even see because they'll eliminate each other. So from that standpoint the first message I got was Dudi Sela or Stephane Robert,” Federer said of his potential second-round opponents, following a first-round bye. “Then I heard that Rafa was in my section, you're like OK, and then you hear that maybe Novak's in your section and you're like OK, fine.”
Helping Federer stay relaxed is that winning feeling he's still carrying from Down Under. The 18-time Grand Slam champion said it feels like his five-set win against Nadal happened just yesterday.
“I still feel like I'm on Cloud Nine,” Federer said. “Things are terrific, and I'm happy if I made a lot of people happy, because I know I'm not just playing for myself these days. There's so much more to it.”
The right-hander has a 52-11 career record in Indian Wells, a run that includes four titles (2004-06, 2012) and two runner-up finishes (2014, 2015).