World No. 1 Novak Djokovic laid all speculations to rest at the BNP Paribas Open, edging Rafael Nadal 7-6(5), 6-2 in Saturday’s semifinals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Going for an unprecedented fifth title, the Serb will face Milos Raonic in Sunday’s championship match.
He has beaten the Canadian in all five of their previous meetings, only losing one set. This will be their first contest since the 2015 Australian Open quarterfinals.
“Milos is probably playing the best tennis that he has ever played,” said Djokovic. “His serve was phenomenal before the start of this season, but this season it seems like he has improved even more, especially the second serve. He’s going for it more. He’s not giving you the same look.
“I will try to prepare myself tactically, analyze his game with my team. We are playing finals, so I’ll try to also use the experience that I have had playing in many Masters 1000 finals in this tournament, as well.
“Even though he hasn’t played too many Masters finals, he’s still very strong mentally. He’s very calm on the court. He’s very composed. He’s showing virtues that are characteristic for some more experienced and older players. That’s one of the impressive things about him.”
The 28-year-old Djokovic improved to a 46-6 record at this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament as he defeated Nadal in just under two hours on Stadium 1.
In the pair’s 48th meeting – an Open Era record on the ATP World Tour – the Serb rallied from an early break down. He also fended off a set point on serve in the 10th game before getting the better of Nadal in the subsequent tie-break, clinching the opener as Nadal netted a backhand.
Djokovic made the decisive breakthrough in the sixth game of the second set, going up 4-2 as Nadal committed a forehand unforced error into the net. He then broke Nadal again in the eighth game to claim his 25th victory over his Spanish rival, converting his sixth match point.
“I work hard to be able to come up with the best game when it’s the most needed,” said Djokovic. “Obviously today the first set was decided in one or two points; second set was very close. Midway through the second I broke his serve, and last three games I played very well.
“So I’m just glad to overcome this challenge that is one of the greatest in sport, as it always is playing against Rafa. I’m taking the positives out of today’s performance and hoping that I can finish off this tournament tomorrow with another great performance.”
Djokovic is looking to add to the Indian Wells titles he won in 2008 (d. Fish), 2011 (d. Nadal), 2014 (d. Federer) and 2015 (d. Federer); he also finished runner-up in 2007 (l. to Nadal).
The Belgrade native is chasing a record-equaling 27th Masters 1000 crown. Last year he added six more to his collection, with victories in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte-Carlo, Rome, Shanghai and Paris.
Three-time former champion Nadal was bidding to reach the final here for the fifth time. The 29-year-old Spaniard advanced to the semifinals after saving a match point against Next Generation star Alexander Zverev in the fourth round.
He then defeated No. 6-ranked Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals for his first Top 10 win of the season.
“I think I played well for a set and a half; then I think he played well the last part,” said Nadal. “I played bad again with my serve at 3-2, and then he finished playing well the last two games. Played at high level.
“I had my chances in the first set. I felt for a moment that I was competing at the highest level possible. At the beginning of the tie-break and at the end of the first set with some 0/15 that I had, I made a few mistakes with my forehand. That’s the only thing.
“I believe that with a little bit more confidence on my forehand at the end of that first set it would have been a better chance.”