It was clear from start that the first men's quarterfinal Friday at the BNP Paribas Open would be over in straight sets.
Grunting, lunging, looking uncomfortable in the broiling midday sun at Indian Wells, one player was down a break after the fourth game and faced a 3-1 deficit and two break points in the fifth game. The rout was on.
And so it turned out, though not in the way it began.
Nadal will face defending champion and No. 1 seed
"The fact that I have played somebody that was feeling good throughout the week, somebody that serves very, very big and plays very quick and efficient, precise forehands that gave me a lot of trouble today, to win in straight sets and to win in two tiebreaks, I think it's gonna help definitely my confidence," Djokovic said. "Mentally, I will take that."
Djokovic leads Nadal, 24-23, in head-to-head matches, including a 6-1, 6-2 trouncing at Doha in January. Nadal had no interest in reliving that one. "Nothing to say about that match than offer congratulations to him," Nadal said. "Tomorrow is another day. He's a clear favorite because he's winning all the matches almost every time."
True enough. Djokovic is 20-1 this year, and the loss was a retirement at Dubai because of an eye infection. He has dropped only one set here, in his first match. "I know Novak is playing unbelievable, so it's so difficult," Nadal said, "but I am here to keep enjoying, keep trying my best, and keep playing with the right energy."
Nadal, the No. 4 seed, has held up remarkably well in punishing heat and unpredictable winds. "He never gives up. He always makes you play an extra shot. Always makes you earn the win," Djokovic said.
Nadal, who will be 30 in June, said he needed reassurance that his trademark combativeness hasn't faded.
"I feel myself strong mentally. I feel myself with the right energy. When that happens, the rest is a little bit less difficult, no?" he said. "I am able to fight for every ball. I am able to keep going during the whole match, believe in myself again, and that makes me play with more energy, less nerves. That's so important for me, no? It's the way I play during all my career, and that gives me a lot.'
Tsonga was asked to compare Nadal, Djokovic and
The winner will advance to Sunday's final against the winner of Saturday's semifinal between No. 15 David Goffin and No. 12
"Forty-eight matches later, a lot has happened. You know, it keeps going," Djokovic said. "I enjoy a rivalry against Rafa. It's probably the most exciting rivalry I have in my career. Hopefully we can play many more matches."