BNP Paribas Open Semifinal Preview: Clay versus Grass headlines Super Saturday at the Desert

Once and for all, a pair of phenomenal matchups of inter-court excellence will kick off Saturday’s order of play at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden as the semifinals action resumes at the BNP Paribas Open later today.

The greatest tennis rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will zero in for the 39th time in the afternoon session while Austrian Dominic Thiem looks to cool down the resurging Canadian Milos Raonic in a battle of all ages.

Before the coins are tossed at the Californian desert, here is a quick preview on the two semifinal matchups at the men’s side:

[7] Dominic Thiem vs. [13] Milos Raonic

Coming off unique and different roads to the semifinals, Dominic Thiem and Milos Raonic are set to face each other for the first time after almost three years as the two power-hitters takes a shot on claiming the first Masters 1000 title of the season.

Thiem, who was absolutely playing quality tennis in this fortnight, enters the match having had zero squandered sets, which was further strengthened by a walkover over injured Frenchman Gael Monfils, who withdrew in the last minute prior to their quarterfinal matchup.

The clay-court specialist and former Roland Garros runner-up aims to extend his incredible run in Indian Wells despite starting the season 3-4 as he takes on the big-serving Canadian and former Wimbledon finalist at Stadium 1 on 11:00 am PST.

Raonic had won all of his two previous meetings with Thiem, 2-0, with their last encounter being at the Nitto ATP Finals in London last 2016.

While Raonic had, undoubtedly, endured a tougher road to the semis, which included a gritty three-setter against the lowly Marcos Giron in the third round, the former world number three, however, seems to still have the upper hand as the medium-paced conditions of the Indian Wells courts fare really well for big-servers like him and last year’s champion Juan Martin del Potro.

Yet, despite his improved baseline game after adding Fabrice Santoro to his team two weeks ago, Raonic still believes that things should not be based from the past.

“He can do a lot of good things, get ahead in the point, and start to run you around a lot if he has time to get into a point and work it. It’s going to be important that I’m very strict with myself and on top of it from the first shot,” Raonic, who now reached four semifinals appearances in his last five tournaments in Indian Wells, quipped.

[2] Rafael Nadal vs. [4] Roger Federer

The defeat of current world number one Novak Djokovic to Philipp Kohlschreiber earlier in the tournament truly proved to have had a huge impact in the way things were expected by many about the possible blockbuster show for the ‘Big 3.’

Since Djokovic went out of the tournament—after also losing in the men’s doubles semifinals to Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo with Italian partner Fabio Fognini—all eyes are now set on second seed Rafael Nadal and fourth seed Roger Federer.

For the 39th time in their careers, the aptly renowned ‘FeDal’ rivalry in one of tennis’ grandest stage, 18 months after their last meeting at the 2017 Shanghai finals.

Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion and two-time Indian Wells winner Nadal leads Federer in their career head-to-head, 23-15, but injury issues have plagued the world number two all throughout the tournament.

Nadal stormed by his opponents until the quarterfinals but the 6-foot-6 Russian Karen Khachanov proved to be a tough test as he had to overcome a gallant stand from the young star as well as his ailing knee to set up the mega-showdown against Federer, 7-6(2), 7-6(2).

The Spaniard is unsurprisingly underwhelmed heading into the match against Federer today as speculations on the former retiring mid-match or even withdrawing before the actual semifinal grew louder, especially with the clay season coming just around the corner.

But, the tennis world knows that the 11-time French Open champion is always up for the challenge, especially against his biggest rival.

“The main thing is all the things that we’ve shared in our careers,” said Nadal. “That makes always the matches really special. Different styles, different ways to understand the sport.”

“At the same time, we’re two players with a good relationship after all the things that we went through in our careers, competing for the most important titles.

“All these things make the match always really special between us and it’s beautiful to have the chance to keep competing at the highest level in late rounds, in the most important events at that late part of our tennis careers,” he added.

Meanwhile, Federer, who is seeking for a record-setting sixth Indian Wells title is fresh from winning his title number 100 in Dubai last month.

The Swiss Maestro jumped start to battle mode right at the start of the tournament, amassing wins from countryman Stan Wawrinka, 22nd-seed British Kyle Edmund, and newcomer Herbert Hurkacz.

“I think we’re very different personalities, maybe also player types,” said Federer, who is playing for a return trip at the finals for the third straight time and tries to bounce back after falling short against del Potro last year.

“The way we go about it is very different, yet we both find a way to excel. The way he came up was very clay-court based, and I was apparently very grass-court based, and we both found our ways on other surfaces,” the world number five also added before starting his preparations for his 12th semifinal in the desert.

PREDICTIONS: Thiem has been a very decent Top 10 player over the last few years, but Raonic’s experience could prove to be the game-changer in their semifinal action as the Canadian’s third win against the Austrian youngster looks to be brighter than the sun at the tennis paradise.

Meanwhile, with all due respect to Nadal, Federer has been playing his best stretch so far this season, and while the Spaniard’s run to the semifinals looks to be dominant in his own terms, the Swiss might just be victorious because of the former’s ailing knee problems.

VERDICT: Raonic defeats Thiem in three sets. Federer dispatches Nadal in two sets.

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