INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — That was more like it. Indian Wells, the elite suburb of Palm Springs — which is pretty elite its ownself — was what we expect this time of year, beautiful weather. And Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also were what we expect this time of year, playing beautiful tennis.
There probably isn’t a tournament from Melbourne to Toronto that either hasn’t won, but at this one, the BNP Paribas Open, the first big event each year after the Australian Open, both have been particularly successful.
Federer has won it five times, Nadal three, and the possibility one or the other will add another championship is very much real — and as always good for the gate, good for the Tennis Channel and good for Roger and Rafa.
“All the best players come here,” Federer said, addressing a stadium full of fans Wednesday, after his 6-1, 6-4 victory over Kyle Edmund, the relatively young (24) South African.
“You guys are having a good time,” he told a crowd that didn’t need the reminder, “and so are we.”
Nadal, whose 6-3, 6-4 win over Filip Krajinovic of Serbia came in the day’s first match, was a trifle less effusive than Federer, which given his 11 a.m. start time is understandable.
“I have to wake up at 6:30 in the morning,” said Nadal.
Federer and Nadal are one match apiece away from facing each other for a 39th time in their careers (Rafa has won 23 of the 38). And to the question of whether yet another opportunity against Rafa would still be exciting, Federer had a quick response.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said, “I think that’s also one of the reasons I’m still in the game, is that when I play the top guys I’m ready for it. For that, I train hard.”
Federer is 37 with 20 Grand Slams, arguably the best player ever, and we’ll get into that more when Roger discusses Rod Laver, the last to win the true Slam, all four majors in a single calendar year — and he did it twice, in 1962 and 1969.
Nadal is 32 with 17 Slams, including 11 French Opens, the most titles won in a single event by a male player. And since the French is played on the red dirt of Roland Garros Stadium, he is considered the finest clay court player in history..
So, in this non-major-yet-anything-but-minor BNP event, a Federer-Nadal quarterfinal would be a gift of sorts, especially since the No. 1 seeds, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, both were eliminated.
“I’m very happy this week,” affirmed Federer. “I hope I can get there. But I’m not going to underestimate Hubert.” As in unseeded Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, his next opponent — and the guy who upset Denis Shapalov of Canada.
“And yeah,” agreed Federer, “Rafa looked supreme this week. He clearly also goes in against (Karen) Khacanov, but Khacanov played a good match just now against John Isner. I think that’s also going to be quite a test for Rafa. But same for me with Hubert.
“I don’t think we’re looking too far ahead, to be honest.”
Everyone else is. Big names with big games are the sport’s attraction. Time and achievement merge to create an irresistible blend. Nothing against Hubert Hurkacz and Karen Khacanov, but if you had to rely on them to get headlines and ratings, well, you wouldn’t get either.
Federer, the Williams sisters, Rafa — they have earned their status. They’ve won. They’ve lasted, even longer than players did a generation ago, because of the emphasis on diet and training.
Federer, who was No. 1 seemingly forever, now is No. 3. Venus Williams, 38, a multi-time champ, is 36th and hasn’t won in a long while.
“You’ve got to be passionate about what you do,” said Federer.
Laver, 80, played in the ’50s and ’60s, first as an amateur and then as a pro, as jet travel was just beginning. ”What he went through, going from city to city,” said Federer, ”clearly he was ahead of his time. He brought something to the game.”
So have Federer and Nadal, who could bring even more if they meet here at Indian Wells.