The great Roger Federer and amazing Rafael Nadal met for a 29th time Thursday night in a storied rivalry that failed to produce another classic at the BNP Paribas Open.
The fifth-ranked Nadal won easily in straight sets in the California desert, as the 31-year-old No. 2 and four-time Indian Wells champion Federer was slowed by a back injury suffered earlier in the week.
"I'm happy to be out there and able to compete, but it's obviously a small issue," Federer said. "That doesn't work against guys like Rafa, obviously."
The Spanish strongman prevailed in 6-4, 6-2 fashion in a flat quarterfinal at the first Masters 1000 event on the ATP calendar, as he improved to 19-10 lifetime against his Swiss rival, including a 6-6 record on hardcourts.
"I played a fantastic first set, in my opinion," the two-time Indian Wells titlist Nadal said. "The second set was strange. The second set, I think Roger didn't fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn't feel comfortable enough to keep fighting."
The French Open champion Nadal, of course, is coming back from a knee injury that kept him sidelined for seven months. He was stunned by unheralded Argentine Horacio Zeballos in a clay-court final (yes, a clay-court final) in Chile in February before finally returning to the winners' circle with back- to-back clay championships in Brazil and Mexico the past month.
"I didn't forget my tennis in seven months. But it is a big surprise for me to have these results. That's the truth," Nadal said. "It is for me a big surprise because I really was not able to practice a lot."
His victory over the Wimbledon champion and fellow former world No. 1 Federer seems like a resounding proclamation of a complete return by the formidable lefty, even though the defending IW champ Federer was clearly nowhere near 100 percent in the lackluster tussle.
The Federer injury aside, Nadal looked and played great. Scrambling to cover the court. Sliding on the cement as if it was his beloved clay. And, of course, winning by pounding Federer with his typical heavy lefty topspin forehand to Federer's weaker side, his one-handed backhand.
Federer said "it was the same thing" on how he lost to Nadal following the defeat.
The two tennis giants haven't played a truly memorable match since the 2009 Australian Open final, when Nadal came out on top in five sets, bringing Federer to tears afterward. They've played about .500 tennis against each other since then ... in less-than-mouth-watering affairs. And the Indian Wells quarterfinal marked their earliest meeting in a tournament since their first clash back in 2004.
Is the best of this classic rivalry in the past? It's sure starting to look that way.
FYI: The 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer and 11-time major titlist Nadal are the only pair to have met in eight Grand Slam finals, with Nadal going 6-2, including a perfect 4-0 in the title round at Roland Garros.
Thursday's win pushed Nadal to 15-1 in his comeback, including a 12-match winning streak. He is seeking a trip into a fourth final in as many events in 2013. He's also won 11 straight matches against fellow top-10ers, dating back to last year.