ATP Indian Wells: Roger Federer battles to set up Nadal clash

ATP Indian Wells: Roger Federer battles to set up Nadal clash

Roger Federer was impeccable on serve, but still needed a pair of tiebreaks to take down Steve Johnson and set a fourth-round clash with Rafael Nadal.

pete-borkowski
Pete Borkowski

Roger Federer set up a dream fourth-round match up with Rafael Nadal by defeating American Steve Johnson in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Tuesday. Both men were at their very best on serve, with neither surrendering a break in the entire match. In the end, Federer’s upped his game in the big moments, claiming a pair of tiebreaks to knock off the American and book his date with Nadal.

Federer untouchable on serve

The match was billed as a battle of great servers, so breaks were expected to be few and far between. It was therefore a bit of a surprise when Federer got an early look at the Johnson serve in the opening game, pushing the American to deuce. However, Johnson was up to the challenge, holding without allowing Federer a break point.

That would prove to be the closest either player would come to be until late in the set, as both men dominated their service games. From 1-1, there were four straight holds to love, two for each man. Johnson would finally start to get some pressure on Federer’s serve in the tenth game as he pushed Federer to a pair of deuces after having only won two points in the Swiss’ previous four service games. However, he failed to reach break point. Federer responded by for his opponent to deuce in the next game, but also could not reach break point.

Steve Johnson chases down a forehand during his third round loss. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Steve Johnson chases down a forehand during his third round loss. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Serve remained sacred in the tiebreak. The first four points would go to the server before Federer finally broke through to secure the minibreak for 3-2. Taking care of business on his own serve, the Swiss reeled off four straight points from 2-2, including a second minibreak to give himself four set points. Johnson would save the first, but Federer put away the second to take the opening set.

Wild tiebreak goes to Federer

It seemed as though the Swiss finally had the upper hand early in the second set as he took a 15-40 lead in Johnson’s opening service game of the second set, the first break points of the match. However, the American was once again up to the task, saving both, along with two more at 40-AD before holding for 1-1 after saving four break points. They would be the only four in the match.

After the scare for Johnson, the pair settled back into their service rhythms. Both would have to battle through deuces in the first half of the set before taking total control for the remainder. No more break points would arrive for either player in the match.

Federer lines up a forehand during his third round win. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Federer lines up a forehand during his third round win. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Once again, a tiebreak was needed. Unlike the entire match that had preceded the second set tiebreak, both men struggled to hang on to their serves. Federer would grab the first minibreak at 2-1, only for Johnson to take it back and close to 2-3. The Swiss responded immediately with another break, but again surrendered it two points later. Serving down 4-5, Johnson imploded, this time fatally. He would surrender both of his service points which was all Federer would need to wrap up the tiebreak 7-5 and book his place in the last sixteen after an hour and 37 minutes.

By the numbers

Federer was dominant on serve, smacking a dozen aces, winning 87 percent of his first serve points and did not allow a single break point opportunity against his serve. Johnson was no slouch either, winning 77 percent of his first serve points and saving all four break points he faced, all coming in the second game of the second set. The difference ended up being a few points in the tiebreak. Federer would win eight of his ten service points in the tiebreak, while Johnson only managed five out of eleven.

In the round of sixteen, Federer will meet his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal, for the 36th time. The pair last met six weeks ago in the final of the Australian Open, which Federer won in five sets. The pair have met twice before in Indian Wells, in consecutive years in 2012 and 2013. Federer won the first one in straight sets before Nadal returned the favour the following year. 

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