INDIAN WELLS: Rafael Nadal withstood the challenge of Russian Karen Khachanov to set up a blockbuster semi-final with Roger Federer at the ATP Indian Wells Masters Friday despite a flare-up of right knee trouble that required mid-match treatment.
World number two Nadal, the highest seed left in the draw after the early ouster of No. 1 Novak Djokovic, dominated both tiebreakers to beat the towering Russian 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2).
He booked a 39th career meeting with Federer, a five-time champion at Indian Wells who breezed past 67th-ranked Hubert Hurkacz of Poland 6-4, 6-4.
“Hopefully I will be ready for it,” said Nadal, who recovered an early break in the opening set and powered through the tiebreaker, but called for the trainer to have supportive tape applied below his right knee three games into the second.
“Of course my goal and my idea is to be ready for tomorrow,” he said.
Although he wasn’t moving as well, Nadal gained the first break of the second set to lead 3-2, but was immediately broken himself.
He saved a set point in a fierce 10th game that went to deuce three times before Nadal held to make it 5-5. He couldn’t convert a break chance in the 11th game as they went to another tiebreaker which the Spaniard again controlled.
“Well, I am used to play with some issues, so I just tried to be focused and to keep hold of the situation,” said Nadal who has battled knee tendinitis and other injuries throughout his career. “It’s one of these victories today that I’m really proud of.”
Khachanov, who peppered Nadal with 17 aces in the two-hour, 17-minute match, has now lost all six of his career meetings with the Spaniard.
He’ll be gunning for a chance to claim a fourth Indian Wells title while Federer is seeking to break out of a tie with Djokovic with a record sixth.
Nadal leads the head-to-head rivalry with Federer 23-15, but Federer has won 11 of their 20 hard-court meetings, including their last five.
However, they haven’t met since October of 2017, when Federer triumphed in straight sets in the final of the Shanghai Masters.
Federer said he might not feel quite the same tingle of anticipation as fans at the prospect of facing Nadal, but he acknowledged that their clashes always raise the stakes.
“If I play Rafa there’s extra energy in the building — there’s always a lot on the line,” said Federer, who added that so much time has passed since their last meeting that his own current five-match winning streak is of little significance.
“I don’t think those five matches matter that much, to be honest,” he said. “A lot of time has gone by.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam champion who captured his 100th career title at Dubai last month, overcame breezy conditions on stadium court and a hungry Hurkacz — a 22-year-old ranked 67th in the world who was playing in his first Masters 1000 quarter-final and just the second quarter-final of his career.
Hurkacz settled his early nerves to produce some entertaining rallies, but he couldn’t make a dent in Federer’s serve.
One break in each set was all Federer needed to seal the win after an hour and 14 minutes.
“Overall I’m very pleased with that performance,” said Federer, who has reached the final four without dropping a set, winning 38 of his 39 service games.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’m holding my serve comfortably, I’m in a good place mentally when I go into my service games. I think it showed this week thus far, so I hope I can keep that up.”
Federer hails ‘wonderful’ Laver Cup addition to ATP Tour
PARIS: Roger Federer on Friday hailed the “wonderful” addition of the Laver Cup, one of three men’s tennis team events, to the official ATP calendar.
The tournament, inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup, pits teams from Europe and the ‘rest of the world’ against each other and was first held in 2017.
It will be in competition with the revamped Davis Cup and the ATP World Team Cup.
“As I come closer to the end of my playing career, it’s wonderful to know that the Laver Cup will be part of the tour that I’ve dedicated more than 20 years of my life to,” said the 37-year-old Federer in a statement after the announcement that the Laver Cup would be added to the ATP Tour.
This year’s edition will be held in Geneva from September 20-22, with Bjorn Borg’s Team Europe the defending champions after defeating the John McEnroe-led Team World in 2018 in Chicago.
World number one Novak Djokovic played in the Laver Cup last year, but has also been one of the driving forces behind bringing back the ATP World Team Cup.
“The Laver Cup is a true celebration of tennis that is loved by the fans and embraced by the players,” said the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
The inaugural Davis Cup finals — which have replaced the World Group after funding from Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique’s investment company Kosmos — will be held in November in Madrid, while Sydney will host the first World Team Cup finals next year.
South Africa unveil England cricket tour dates
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa on Friday announced the dates for a tour by England which will include four Tests, three one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals.
The Test series will start in Centurion on December 26, followed by South Africa’s traditional New Year Test at Newlands in Cape Town, starting on January 3.
The remaining Tests will be in Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg.
England will play two warm-up matches before the Tests, a two-day game against an Invitation XI and a three-day match against South Africa A. Both fixtures will be in Benoni.
Cricket South Africa chief executive Thabang Moroe said the series would have special significance, “as this will be our first home series in the ICC World Test championship following our away series in India in October.”
South Africa will also host Australia for three Twenty20 internationals and three one-day internationals, starting five days after England’s final fixture on February 16.
Ahead of women’s World Cup, female fans struggle in Middle East
DUBAI: Two weeks ahead of a potentially game-changing women’s World Cup, football remains completely male-dominated in large parts of the Middle East and North Africa, where female fans are still battling for a level playing field.
Women fans face obstacles in many parts of the region where rival powers Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally enforced rules banning women from entering stadiums.
No countries from the region will be among the 24 teams taking part in the tournament in France from June 7, but at least there are signs of flexibility in the region toward a sport igniting more and more female interest across the globe.
In Iran, rules have been relaxed since the 1979 Islamic revolution and women are selectively allowed to attend some matches.
But the fact that a ban has yet to be officially lifted indicates there is still disagreement over the issue among senior figures in the Islamic republic.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia allowed women into a football stadium for the first time in January 2018 for a regular domestic football league match.
The move was part of reforms introduced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that included allowing women to drive and take part in other sporting and artistic events.