ATP Indian Wells: Novak Djokovic Battles Past Rafael Nadal, Advances To Men’s Final

World number one and four-time Indian Wells champion Novak Djokovic defeated world number five and fourth-seeded Rafael Nadal 7-6 (5), 6-2, in one hour and 59 minutes to advance to the men's final, where he will meet world number 14 Milos Raonic.

After an incredibly tight first set, the world number one and 11-time Grand Slam champion edged Nadal out in a tiebreak, 7-5. Djokovic unloaded on Nadal in the second set, producing amazing shots, breaking twice to earn a trip to his sixth Indian Wells final, where he has a 4-1 record. A title on Sunday would give him the record of most titles in Indian Wells with five. He is currently tied with Roger Federer at four titles apiece. Despite the loss, Nadal played one of his best matches against the world number one in a long time. That in itself will give him confidence going forward.

Djokovic rips a forehand winner down the line. Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
Djokovic rips a forehand winner down the line. Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

Djokovic Squeezes Out First Set In Tight Tiebreaker

As shown throughout their rivalry, the first set is incredibly important. When winning the first set, Djokovic holds a 20-3 record, while Nadal holds a 20-4 record when taking set number one. This star-studded match began in dramatic fashion, with a 20+ shot rally, before Nadal held to begin the match.

In Djokovic’s first service game, after two uncharacteristic double faults from the world number one as a result of the sun, Nadal capitalized on his first break point chance of the day, breaking the top seed for an early 2-0 lead on a forehand winner down-the-line.

Notably, Djokovic was serving on the side tougher for righties due to the placement of the sun. However, Djokovic added a hit, and struck right back, breaking the fourth seed to level the match back on serve at 1-2. After consecutive holds by both players, in the seventh game, the Spaniard fought off two break chances, eventually holding on his fourth game point. After a quick hold, the Serbian applied the pressure once again, jumping out to a 15-30 lead, but once again, the world number five held for a 5-4 lead.

In the very next game, Nadal gladly applied the pressure right back, earning a set point at 30-40, but Djokovic fought it off before holding for 5-5. As the match approached one hour of play, this crucial first set was headed to a tiebreak. Djokovic carried a 4-2 lead into the change of ends. Nadal refused to go away, evening the tiebreak at 5-5 with some incredible shots, sending the crowd into a roar. Djokovic earned his first set point at 6-5 and used it to his advantage, taking the tiebreak 7-5, clinching the crucial first set in one hour and nine minutes.

Nadal stretches out to hit the forehand. Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Nadal stretches out to rip the forehand. Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Djokovic Pulls Away In Second Set, Seals Trip To Sixth Indian Wells Final

After a powerful first set and tiebreak, the second set got off to an even more intense start, filled with long games and ridiculous shot-making. Both players elevated their games to peak levels, producing incredible tennis.

The crowd continued to be treated to an incredible level of professional tennis. Nadal fought off the Djokovic charge in his first service game, barely holding after a marathon back-and-forth game. Djokovic earned two break changes in the fifth game, capitalizing on the second to earn the first break of the second set and a 4-2 lead. The top-seed was aided by some routine misses by the Spaniard, and the tide of the match began to swing favorably in the world number one’s favor.

Djokovic quickly consolidated the break with a booming backhand winner, as the 11-time Grand Slam champion leaped out to a 5-2 lead. The four-time champion in the desert of California took no chances, racing out to a 0-40 lead and amassing three match points. Nadal, however, had no thoughts of leaving the stadium court, saving all three match points. On his sixth chance, however, the Serbian number one finally sealed the match as a Nadal forehand landed long.

The packed Stadium 1 was treated to a fantastic match between Djokovic and Nadal. Credit: Harry How/Getty Images
The packed Stadium 1 was treated to a fantastic match between Djokovic and Nadal. Credit: Harry How/Getty Images

The Final

Djokovic takes a 5-0 head-to-head into his final with Raonic. Djokovic will look to three-peat in Indian Wells, having won the tournament the past two seasons.

Following the final tomorrow, both Djokovic and Nadal will travel to Miami next week for the star-packed 2016 Miami Open, where they will both be joined by the Swiss Maestro, as Roger Federer returns to the ATP World Tour for the first time since knee surgery in late January.