By Leighton Ginn
It is a rivalry that has had historical implications and established Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as two of the greatest players who ever played tennis.
So their showdown at the BNP Paribas Open will be unusual in that it will be contested on Hump Day, not championship weekend.
In a rare early-round matchup, Federer and Nadal will face ether other for the 36th time on Wednesday.
” I think everybody is going to watch that match, honestly,” said Garbine Muguruza, the women’s No. 7 seed. “Everybody likes Rafa. Everybody likes Roger. It’s history over there.”
Nadal defeated fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-5, while Federer outlasted former USC star Steve Johnson 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) to set up the rematch of their Australian Open final.
For Federer, he welcomes the challenge.
“That’s why I came here, play against guys like Rafa,” said Federer, who won an epic five-set final over Nadal in the Australian Open final. “I’m going to be excited now. Better be excited now. Otherwise I came for the wrong reasons.”
Giving the conditions and the round they are playing in, Federer said the match will be much different from their Australian Open final. Based on the round, Federer expects himself and Nadal to be a little more conservative.
“It’s going to be more difficult for both of us just to rip winners into the corner,” Federer said. “If you play at the early matches, you see usually the top guys not chase the lines so much. You give yourself some margins for error, really.
“So there is a bit of the unknown, which, I mean, is exciting maybe for the fans or you guys to see how we’re going to try to figure that part out. And then it’s a best-of-three-set match. This is more of a sprint than a marathon, not like in Australia.”
It is the first time they’ve faced each other before the quarterfinals since their first meeting in 2004 at Miami. That was a round of 32 match.
Nadal said he didn’t really enjoy having an epic rivalry played out in the fourth round. But when the draws came out last week, this quarter of the draw featured not only Nadal and Federer, but No. 2 Novak Djokovic, 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. A few times in the press conferences, this quarter of the draw has been referred to as the “Draw of Death.”
“I think is unlucky part of the draw for everybody. I think part of the tournament, even if they can have good matches, is probably not the best thing to have that matches that early in the tournament. For the players is not good, because good players, for sure, going to go out early,” Nadal said. “Sometimes if top players are playing well, then they have the chance to go to the final rounds, no? In this case, doesn’t matter if everybody is playing well, because from our part of the draw, only one of us gonna be in that semifinals.
“So that’s tough, but that’s not happening every week. Only thing we can do to avoid that is be in higher position of the ranking.”
While Nadal might not be happy with the timing of the matchup, Muguruza said she’s just happy to see the match up again.
“Nobody cares who wins anymore. It’s just I want to see them play,” Muguruza said. “It’s so good to watch them play together same time on the court. Doesn’t matter. I just want to watch the match. I’m so fond of both of them. It’s so good they have this match tomorrow.”