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BNP Paribas Open: Nadal Sets Up for Djoke

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The tennis gods looked down on the BNP Paribas Open and smiled. For the first time since 1995 in Indian Wells, all four men’s semifinalists have a Grand Slam title to their name. Specifically the last four men’s Grand Slam champions are represented dating back to Rafael Nadal winning his first French Open championship at Roland Garros in 2005.

The first semifinal of the day saw the rematch of the 2009 U.S Open semifinals where Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro had a straight-sets victory over the Spaniard Rafael Nadal 6-2; 6-2; 6-2. This time the top-seeded Nadal got his revenge defeating unseeded Del Potro 6-4; 6-4 despite a lackluster start.

Del Potro took advantage of Nadal’s double faults and unforced errors every which way to storm out to a 3-0 lead in the first set.

“The match started a little bit strange for me - well strange and not strange, no” Nadal mused. “I think the first game of the return I played well. But when I served for the first time in the match I think I had two or three unforced errors with my forehand, so that’s not unusual.”

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At that point the 90th ranked Del Potro looked like he could continue his three-match winning streak against Nadal, who still held the career 4-3 advantage. However the fury of Nadal was stoked which Del Potro couldn’t withstand. After he was the picture of calm in the first three games, he was the one starting to come unhinged once Nadal brought the game to him ceding ground and committing errors.

“In the beginning I felt really good,” Del Potro said. “That means nothing. Against Rafa you have to play to the last point very nice tennis.”

By the seventh game of the first set, Nadal took the break 4-3 and never looked back breaking him against in the fifth game of the second set to take a 3-2 lead and hold for the match.

“I started to put more balls inside, play higher to his backhand and trying to get the right rhythm,” Nadal said. “I think I did well.”

“It’s very difficult to make a winner against Nadal,” Del Potro said. “I think he played much better than me today. That’s it.”

For Del Potro his ranking should climb to around No. 53 on Monday for another semifinal showing. After defeating Roger Federer in the U.S. Open Finals in 2009, a right wrist injury sidelined him for eight months last year sending his rankings plummeting from No. 4 to No. 498. But his rankings have steadily climbed this year with semifinal showings in San Jose and Memphis and a title run in Delray Beach.

Meanwhile the world No. 1 Nadal has reached the first final of the year and his first since the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November where he lost to Federer. The all-time leader with 18 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles will be seeking his first title since winning in Tokyo on Oct. 10, 2010.

Nadal will take on the new No. 2 player in the world Novak Djokovic in the finals on Sunday.

Djokovic survived the rollercoaster ride of a match defeating Roger Federer 6-3; 3-6; 6-2 in the other men’s semifinal match keeping alive his 19-match winning streak without a loss in 2011. In fact his last loss was to Federer in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semifinal round.

“It was a very close match,” Djokovic remarked. “Up to the last point you couldn’t say who would win the match.”

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With the wind rustling among the cheering crowd, momentum was about as relevant as a telegraph. Right after Federer broke Djokovic to take the second set, Djokovic responded right away to break Federer in the first game of the third set.

While there was some excellent shotmaking throughout the match, perhaps the most transcendent play of the entire tournament happened after Federer broke Djokovic in the second set. With Federer serving 30-30 at 3-2 in the second, the two had a 19-shot rally that at one point looked finished after Djokovic hit a drop shot that fell in the middle of the ad serving box. Federer managed to get to it to keep the rally alive and punctuated the point with a forehand overhead smash down the middle with Djokovic at the net sending the nearly capacity crowd on their feet.

“[Federer] is still up there,” Djokovic said. “He’s still one of the best players in the world.”

This coming from a guy who has now defeated Federer in three consecutive meetings.