Federer expected it to be business as usual when he warmed up for their Indian Wells clash and heard Nadal was on a separate practise court. But a couple of hours before they were slated to battle on Stadium 1, the Spaniard was forced to withdraw due to right knee pain.
“Rafa texted me a message saying ‘It’s not going to be possible, my knee is not well.’ It’s definitely a big letdown because I know the anticipation [for the match] was there and the tension was so high for the both of us,” said Federer. “I’m obviously excited to be in the final, but not this way. He was playing some of his best tennis again, so I was looking forward to the match and I’m sorry it didn’t happen.”
Nadal still leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head Series 23-15, but they haven’t faced off since the 2017 Shanghai Rolex Masters. The two titans are in the twilight of their careers, so the opportunities for them to play each other are less frequent. As Federer continues his 21st year on tour and Nadal his 18th, it’s only natural for fans to wonder when their last match will be.
But with both men still playing high-quality tennis, Federer is optimistic they’ll put themselves in position to meet again.
“We’ve had so many epic battles and I know every match we have now could be our last. Was this our chance for the last one? I really hope not,” said Federer. “I believe at the level he’s playing and that I’m still going at, there’s going to be more. But if we keep staying up high in the [ATP Rankings], it’s more of a challenge to get to each other in the draw as well.”
Federer is now one match away from a record sixth Indian Wells title as he gets ready to face Dominic Thiem on Sunday. He was just one point away last year from taking sole ownership of the record he shares with Novak Djokovic, but missed three championship points in a heartbreaking third-set tie-break loss to Juan Martin del Potro.
Although Federer has put himself in the same position 12 months later, he won’t be logging in any extra hours on the court in spite of Nadal’s withdrawal.
“I’ve hit so much the last few weeks that I’m happy to save my knees for my body, to be honest,” joked Federer. “We don’t have much time off, so when you do get an afternoon off, you put your feet up, take a massage and spend some time with the family. It’s a big final for me, especially after the tough loss last year…but I’m feeling good and ready to go.”