Instead of a tennis racquet, Roger Federer held a microphone when he took to the court Friday at Stadium 1.
He had been told that Nick Kyrgios, his quarterfinal opponent at the BNP Paribas Open, had withdrawn because of a bout with suspected food poisoning but word didn't reach some early-arriving fans. Federer, sensing fans might feel cheated of the spectacle they had paid to see, went to center court to greet them and to tell them Kyrgios' absence was as disappointing to him as it was to them.
"I was actually really looking forward to the match. That's just how tennis goes and I know you guys understand that's how sports work sometimes," Federer told the appreciative audience. "It's a pity but I'm really having a great time here in Indian Wells and I hope I'm going to play a great match [Saturday]."
He probably will. Even his semifinal opponent, 24-year-old American Jack Sock, expects greatness from Federer when they meet Saturday. And Sock has a good perspective, having watched the 18-time Grand Slam champion for years and having failed to take a set from Federer in their two previous career meetings, once indoors in Switzerland and once here in the round of 16, on both occasions in 2015.
"In my opinion, he's the best ever to play," said Sock, whose 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 quarterfinal upset of No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan on Friday earned him a place across the court from Federer in the second semifinal at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The first semifinal will match No. 21 seed Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain against No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka.
All eyes will be on Federer, including Sock's. "It's a testament to him and his ability and skill and taking that much time off and coming back and winning the first major of the year and playing the tennis he's been playing this year," Sock said, referring to Federer's stirring Australian Open victory in January after taking six months off to rehabilitate an aching knee.
"Obviously he's playing incredible tennis not only this year but this week. But on the flip side of that, I am playing confident tennis as well myself. And I think if I go out there and play the right tennis and play the right strategy, I think I can give myself a shot, for sure."
Sock, at No. 18 in the world the top-ranked American man, earned his shot against Federer with a gritty effort against Nishikori. Sock survived his fourth three-set match in this tournament on his solid conditioning — which wasn't a strong point for him a few years ago — and on his perseverance against searing heat and tricky winds.
A native of Lincoln, Neb., who grew up in Kansas City, Sock started off well Friday by breaking Nishikori's serve in the second game of the first set and clinched the set when Nishikori hit a return wide. But in the second set, Nishikori broke Sock's serve at love for a 3-1 lead. Nishikori broke his serve again to take the second set with Sock hit a wildly long backhand.
In previous years Sock might have faltered. But a bathroom break allowed him to regroup. "I was thinking I better win the third or my tournament is over," he said, smiling. "Physically, I think I have been making the right strides for some time now. I just kept adding to it in the offseason. But I think the mental side of it is probably the biggest difference so far this year.
"I think last year and a half, two years, the matches I have been winning this year, especially this tournament, I probably wouldn't have been winning a year and a half, two years ago."
He signaled his intentions when he broke Nishikori's serve in the first game of the third set. Their fifth game was an adventure, with Sock getting five break points before he hit a forehand that left a badly positioned Nishikori to play the ball. "Little, lazy mistakes for me, I think," Nishikori said. "Too many unforced errors, especially in the third, to give him too many chances to break.
"I didn't play my best tennis today, but I think he played good tennis, also."
Sock is counting on the fact that even players of Federer's stature can have bad days. As Sock noted, Federer followed his exhilarating Australian Open triumph with a round-of-16 loss in Dubai to 116th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy. "And the trend of tennis now, if a guy is playing well at any ranking [he] can give any guy trouble. That's another reason why you see that result, those type of results throughout this year," Sock said.
"When I played him here last and I played him in Basel a couple years ago, I don't think I went on the court giving myself a ton of chances of winning. I think that's changed, for sure."
A chance is all he can hope for. What he does with it will say a lot about where he is and the heights he someday might achieve.