To break down how Rafa and Roger match up, you just have to look at the numbers. Rafa leads their career rivalry 23-15; Roger has won two of their three matches in Indian Wells; Roger leads their hard court rivalry 11-9 and he has won their last five hard court matches. And Rafa hasn’t beaten Roger since the Australian Open in 2014.
My colleagues, those of a historical bent, at L’Equipe have put this last little factoid into perspective. Back in January of 2014, Novak Djokovic had only won six Grand Slam titles, Stefanos Tsitsipas was ranked No.1979 in the world, Tommy Haas, now the tournament director in Indian Wells, was the world No.12 and Felix Auger Aliassime was only 13 years old. A lot of things can change in five years, it seems.
But sadly for Rafa, a lot can happen in the space of a few hours. As he worked his way to the quarter-finals, he felt absolutely fine. Then, when he got to work against Karen Khachanov on Friday afternoon, he soon felt a familiar and depressing pain in his right knee.
Would Rafa be ready?
He started on the back foot – or possibly knee – against the Russian in the first set, fighting his way back from an early break, and only managed to gain the advantage in the tiebreak, having watched four set points slip from his grasp as Khachanov served to stay in the set at 4-5.
Then, three games into the second set, Rafa called for the trainer. His right knee needed urgent work and taping. And even though he broke after that attention, he could not hold onto his lead and they headed to another tiebreak. Raf won that to close out the match 7-6, 7-6 but he was not overly optimistic that he would be ready to play Roger the next day.