ATP Indian Wells Semifinal Preview: Novak Djokovic - Rafael Nadal
Photo courtesy: Reuters/Naseem Zeitoon

Two of the most decorated players all-time face off in the California desert, as world number one and 11-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic faces world number five and 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal for a spot in the final of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Nadal and Djokovic face off for a record 48th time, as two of the all-time greats look to gain a coveted spot in the final of Indian Wells.

How They Got Here

The world number one and two-time defending Indian Wells champion began his campaign against American youngster Bjorn Fratangelo, with the Serb having to fight through incredible play from Fratangelo, as well as un-characteristic errors from himself to move through to the third round in three, difficult sets. In the next round, the Serb dispatched German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5, 7-5 to reach the round of 16 in the desert.

Djokovic then came up against Spanish left-hander Feliciano Lopez, who the defending champion was forced to retire to in Dubai, his only loss on the season. The 11-time major winner moved past Lopez with ease, winning 6-3, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals. In the last eight, Djokovic faced tough opposition in the form of big hitting Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga pushed Djokovic early on, getting two points from the opening set, but the Serbian's resolve showed, as Djokovic kept alive his title defense, winning through to the semis 7-6, 7-6. 

Djokovic hitting a backhand/Getty Images

The world number five and three-time Indian Wells winner began his quest for a fourth title in the California desert against veteran Luxembourger Gilles Muller in the second round. In extremely tricky, windy conditions, both players struggled to garner any momentum, but eventually the 14-time major winner Nadal prevailed 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 to reach the third round. In the next round two Spaniards faced off as Nadal went up against the man who knocked him out in the opening round of the Australian Open, Fernando Verdasco. Nadal came out red hot against Verdasco, blasting winners throughout the opening set to take it 6-0. The second set was a much different story with Verdasco seemingly finding his game when it counted to force a tiebreak. The three-time Indian Wells champion eventually prevailed in the tiebreak, saving multiple set points to take his revenge over Verdasco.

In the fourth round, the Spaniard came up against German rising star Alexander Zverev. Zverev and Nadal both came out playing outstanding tennis, with the big serving youngster eventually taking the first set in a tiebreak. Nadal fought back extremely well in the second, dishing out another bagel to force a third. In the decider, Zverev got himself all the way to match point, before dumping the put-away volley into the net to give the always tough Nadal lifeline back in. The Spaniard made Zverev pay for his mistake, coming out on top after the pressure became too much for the German, with Nadal finally taking the match 6-7, 6-0, 7-5 to move through to the quarterfinals.

In the last eight, Nadal faced Japanese world number six Kei Nishikori for a spot in the semifinals. The Spaniard found himself down a break early, but he responded in typical Nadal fashion, breaking the Japanese before breaking once again to take the set 6-4. With the 14-time Grand Slam winner seeming to have found his vintage form again, Nadal rolled through the second set to book a semifinal meeting with the world number one Novak Djokovic. 

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Nadal hitting a forehand/Getty Images

Previous Matchups

With Nadal and Djokovic both being two of the elite players of the past decade, the two have battled at tennis' biggest stages, with an extremely close head to head between them. The Serb leads the head to head 24-23, but the Spanish lefty will be looking to tie that up today in the desert. At majors, Nadal leads the head to head 9-3, but his Serbian rival won their most recent meeting at a major emphatically 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 at Nadal's kingdom, Roland Garros. At the Masters 1000 level, where Nadal holds the record for most title with 24, with Djokovic one behind at 23, the Serb leads the head-to-head 14-9, giving Djokovic an edge in best of three matches.

The two have played a few times here in Indian Wells, with Djokovic leading in the desert 2-1, with their last meeting coming in the 2011 final, with the world number one winning that encounter 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to take his second of four BNP Paribas Open titles. The pair's most recent meeting came just two months ago in the first week of the season, with Djokovic trouncing Nadal 6-1, 6-2 to take the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open title in Doha. 

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Final Thoughts

With both players coming into the match in superb form, this is bound to be a memorable match in the California desert. With Djokovic's incredible defense and all-around game and Nadal's big, spinning lefty forehands, the contrast in game styles will be something to look for. In the two's past few meetings, Djokovic has been the more aggressive one, with the offensive tactic playing dividends. For Nadal to have a chance at winning, he will need to keep up the scintillating form he has against Nishikori, and will need to look to attack any second serves or short balls. For Djokovic to have success, the Serb will need to continue his great returning, and also make a lot of first serves, putting pressure on the Nadal return. The key in this matchup will be who can be more aggressive and serve better, and having done that all of the past year, expect the world number one to move into his third straight BNP Paribas Open final.

Prediction: Djokovic in three sets.