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By Chris Oddo | Friday March 15, 2019


Rafael Nadal took care of business by defeating Russia’s Karen Khachanov 7-6(2) 7-6(2) on Friday to set a semi-final clash with Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open.

Now, he’ll have to take care of an ailing right knee, as fans and even Nadal himself are currently left wondering if the much-hyped showdown between the two great rivals will even take place.

"Nobody can guarantee anything about what can happen the next day because, in this world, anything can happen. But of course my goal and my idea is be ready for tomorrow. Then happened what happened on court, so I cannot guarantee how I am going to wake up tomorrow morning.,” Nadal told reporters after the match.

Nadal struggled with his knee in the second set of a tense, physical encounter with Khachanov, and had to call the trainer after the third game to have it taped. He didn’t have the same explosive moment and seemed to be looking to end points earlier than usual.

Tecnifibre T-Fight

But he fought on and eventually claimed a straight-set victory that took two hours and 16 minutes to complete.

It could have been a lot longer if Khachanov had been a little more opportunistic.

Khachanov earned a set point when he lashed a backhand crosscourt winner with Nadal serving at 4-5 in the second set, but the Spaniard was let off the hook by Khachanov who scooped a half-volley, sending it well wide.

Nadal won the final five points of the second-set breaker to clinch the hard-fought victory, his sixth in six meetings with the current World No.13.


But Nadal’s knee injury threatens to spoil the dream semi-final between the Spaniard and his longtime rival, and fans can only cross their fingers and hope that Nadal turns up healthy on Saturday.

Federer owns a five-match winning streak over Nadal that dates back to the fall of 2015, and today’s developments will make him the favorite on Saturday, if they should meet for the 39th time.

“Main thing is all the things that we shared in our careers,” Nadal told reporters when asked to give his view on facing Federer. “That makes always the matches really special.”

Nadal says he relishes the rivalry even more, knowing the history the pair have had and the camaraderie they have developed. Even as he is unsure of his own health today he is convinced of the importance of each of the rival’s meetings.

“Of course it's a special match,” he said, adding: “Even if it's between us, even if it's more special than any other match, still a tennis match and the goal always is the same: Go on court and play at the highest level possible.”

Nadal hit that high level on Friday against a hard-hitting Russian that has made strides against him in their last two meetings.

The stats were clean for Nadal despite the windy conditions. Nadal struck 25 winners (22 off the forehand side) and 16 unforced errors, while Khachanov produced 36 winners (17 off the serve) against 32 unforced errors.

Nadal won 46 of 71 points that lasted five or more strokes, as his tactical edge over the Russian outweighed any ill effects of his knee worries.

Lucky Letcord Podcast

As the victory celebration subsided there were once again the same recurring worries. Nadal says he has felt no pain in the knee earlier in the week and he didn’t see this coming. But in the leadup to Saturday's semi-final the great Spaniard is left to deal with more than just his next opponent. He’ll fight Federer on the court if he can on Saturday but tonight Nadal will be struggling against his body, hoping that it will grant him a reprieve ahead of one of his biggest matches of this young season.

Thanks to an unforgiving surface like the hardcourts at the BNP Paribas Open, and his own defiantly physical style of tennis, Nadal may not be so lucky.

Nadal’s misfortunes on the hardcourts have been well-documented of late, and he once again expressed his point of view on the difficulties of playing on such an unforgiving surface at the end of his press conference.

He said he hopes that the tour will find a solution to play a greater percentage of its matches on softer surfaces in the future. Now, five years, twenty years--hopefully sooner rather than later.

“It's about how many hip injuries, how many hip surgeries you have all around the tour, how many problems with the knee, how many problems with the joints in general, ankles,” Nadal said. “Yeah, and is not, as I say before, is not only about today. Is about tomorrow. Maybe we gonna pay the price at the age of 45 or something like this. That will be not nice. And when I see some old legends walking around the tour, is tough to see."

He added: "I love to play on hard, but probably my body don't love it that much. ... And my feeling is there is a lot of players that love to play on hard, true, but their bodies don't love to play on hard, either."

Meanwhile, the tennis world awaits another episode of the rivarly that it has cherished ever since these two titans met in Miami for the first time in 2004. Since then they have captivated the tennis world, and have become forever linked, their epic enounters woven into the tapestry of tennis history.

Another edition would be glorious--great for the tournament and great for the fans. But if it isn't good for Nadal's health, the harsh reality may prevail.

 

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