Federer and Nadal set up quarter-final showdown

INDIAN WELLS, California (AFP) –

Rafael Nadal serves against Ernests Gulbis at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 13, 2013

Rafael Nadal serves against Ernests Gulbis at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 13, 2013. Nadal, playing his fourth tournament since returning from a seven-month injury absence, outlasted the in-form Latvian 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both battled through three-set thrillers to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final at Indian Wells.

Defending champion Federer defeated fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, laboring two hours and 20 minutes to subdue his old friend.

Nadal, playing his fourth tournament since returning from a seven-month injury absence, outlasted the in-form Latvian Ernests Gulbis 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.

Federer had a golden opportunity to make his day much shorter, but serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set he was broken to love.

Unable to convert two break points in the following game he surrendered the set on a tiebreaker when he double-faulted on set point.

Roger Federer hits a backhand return against Stanislas Wawrinka at the BNP Paribas Open on March 13, 2013

Roger Federer hits a backhand return against Stanislas Wawrinka at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 13, 2013. Federer battled past fellow Swiss Wawrinka 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals.

Wawrinka then gained the upper hand with a break in the third set, but Federer, winner of 17 Grand Slam titles, broke back and earned the decisive break in the final game as Wawrinka smacked a volley into the net.

“I think I was a little little lucky to come through it in the end,” said Federer, who continued to say a sore back would not hinder his pursuit of a first title of 2013.

“Overall I’m very pleased that I was able to play today and play at a high level, which was important obviously at this stage of the tournament,” Federer said.

Nadal is playing his first hard court tournament since left-knee tendinitis forced him out of the Miami Masters last March.

The same injury later sidelined him for seven months — from a second-round defeat at Wimbledon until a comeback swing of three clay-court tournaments in Latin America in February that yielded two titles and a runner-up finish.

Rafael Nadal gestures after winning a point against Ernests Gulbis at the BNP Paribas Open on March 13, 2013

Rafael Nadal gestures after winning a point against Ernests Gulbis at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on March 13, 2013. Nadal is playing his first hard court tournament since left-knee tendinitis forced him out of the Miami Masters last March.

Nadal had admitted he did not know how his knee would hold up on hard courts, and in qualifier Gulbis he came up against a red-hot player who had won the Delray Beach title as a qualifier the week before Indian Wells and toppled two seeds en route to his meeting with the Spaniard.

“Always against Ernests it’s a very difficult match,” Nadal said. “He’s a very, very aggressive player with a big serve.”

Nadal saved the only break point he faced in the third set, and converted his only opportunity to break in the 11th game.

When he finally blasted a forehand winner on his third match point, Nadal gave a little leap of joy.

“I had to suffer a lot to win this match,” he said.

A packed schedule on stadium court saw Nadal’s match, the last of the day session, finish at at 9:47pm.

The night session was to feature world No. 1 Novak Djokovic taking on American Sam Querrey — the last man to beat the Serbian, back on October 31 but before that Maria Sharapova was facing Sara Errani for a women’s semi-final berth in the WTA event.

Earlier world No. 3 Andy Murray reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 victory over Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq.

Murray twice went down a break in the opening set, but he managed to quell his opponent to book a date with seventh-seeded Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro, who beat German veteran Tommy Haas 6-1, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych defeated France’s Richard Gasquet 6-1, 7-5 to advance to a quarter-final meeting with South African Kevin Anderson, a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 winner over France’s Gilles Simon.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga kept the French flag flying with a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Milos Raonic.

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