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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Roger Federer

Roger Federer defeated Steve Johnson, 7-6, 7-6, to set up a BNP Paribas Open fourth-round blockbuster rematch with rival Rafael Nadal.

Photo credit: Billie Weiss/BNP Paribas Open

The purple court resembled a bounce house as a backpedaling Roger Federer soared to spike a smash in the second set that incited immediate reaction from the crowd and his opponent.

“That’s too good,” Steve Johnson remarked.

Watch: Nadal Tops Verdasco For 50th IW Win

When Federer is in flight, he can transform adversaries to admirers.

In a match devoid of a single break, Federer elevated past Johnson, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), landing in blockbuster BNP Paribas Open fourth-round clash with rival Rafael Nadal.

"Very excited," Federer said of his rematch with Nadal. "I said it at the press conference in the beginning. That's why I came here, play against guys like Rafa. Now we have it. I'm going to be excited now. Better be excited now. Otherwise I came for the wrong reasons."

Earlier, Nadal swept sometime doubles partner Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 7-5, earning his 50th career Indian Wells victory to advance to the fourth round for the 11th time.

Nadal and Federer will face off in the 36th installment of their historic rivalry tomorrow night.

The match is a rematch of the Australian Open final in which Federer fought back from a 1-3 deficit in the fifth set to defeat Nadal, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 last month.

Asked what makes the Swiss stylist so special, Nadal replied with a smile "everything", adding Federer is exceptional at making the demanding shot look easy.

"He has the talent to do very difficult things that looks easy," Nadal said. "He's able to take the ball very early, serve and first shot. He create a lot of winners with that, two first shots, no?

"And then he's able to take the ball always from inside, and he's very quick going to the net. If you play short ball, then you know that he gonna go inside and gonna hit a winner, gonna play a shot that hit forehand or backhand, go to the net, and you are going to be in big trouble."

The rivals have split two prior Indian Wells encounters. Federer was a 6-3, 6-4 victor in the 2012 semifinals. Nadal scored a 6-4, 6-2 triumph in the quarterfinals a year later.

"I mean, Australia helps me a little bit, but, you know, at the end of the day, I'm still in the comeback," Federer said. "And I try to see it really as another opportunity to build upon something for the rest of the season. So regardless of Australia, winning or losing, I'm going to try to go out there and try to play free again. I think it's really important.

"I'm really happy that I got my energy back, because in Dubai I was actually still quite tired. I feel like tomorrow if I move well, you know, I will definitely have a chance against Rafa."

It was a strong serving performance from Federer, who spread the service box effectively, fired 12 aces, won 41 of 47 first-serve points and did not face a break point all night.

Johnson came out jolting his serve. A 131 mph ace sealed a love hold giving the former USC Trojan a 3-2 lead.

In a rare serving lapse, Federer opened the 10th game with five straight faults falling into a love-30 hole. A 120 mph bounce-smash from the baseline and a slick half-volley pickup helped the Australian Open champion navigate a deuce game for 5-all.

In the ensuing game, Johnson answered with his own snazzy backhand pick-up to set up an inside-out forehand pass, eventually holding for 6-5.

Targeting the Californian’s weaker backhand wing in the tie break, Federer flew in to exploit a Johnson short slice blocking a forehand volley winner for the mini break and a 3-2 advantage.

Attacking the American’s backhand wing again, Federer drew a backhand error for set points at 6-2. Racing forward, Federer took the tie break, 7-3, when Johnson looped a backhand long.

The 24th-seeded Johnson denied four break points in a gritty game to level the second set, 1-all.

Timely serving carried both men through the rest of the set. Johnson came through a tough test in the eighth game holding with an ace. Federer slid a crackling serve wide holding for 5-4.

Down 40-0 in the 10th game, Federer brought out the SABR in a successful attack.

Opening the tie break with his 11th ace, Federer stretched the lead to 4-2 when Johnson netted a forehand. A service winner followed by a netted forehand from his opponent gave Federer two match points.

Bolting a backhand return, Federer forced a final error wrapping up a 95-minute win waving to his kids who watched their famous father at work alongside mom Mirka.

This Roger vs. Rafa showdown is special because it comes five weeks after their meeting in Melbourne and because it's the earliest they've met in a tournament since their initial 2004 third-round encounter in Miami. Because of that, Federer feels there will be a different dynamic at play.   

"It will feel different. It's going to be more difficult for both of us just to rip winners into the corner," Federer said. "That's normal. If you play at the early matches, you see usually the top guys not chase the lines so much. You know, you give yourself some margins for error, really. That's what it is.

"So I think the match will be played a bit different. Then again, this is a hard court, I know, but it plays very different to Australia. We have different balls, different grit of court. Because it's early in the tournament, I think we both don't quite yet know to 100 percent how everything feels. So there is a bit of the unknown, which, I mean, is exciting maybe for the fans or you guys to see how we're going to try to figure that part out. And then it's a best of three set match. This is more of a sprint than a marathon, not like in Australia."


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