The world no. 2 and three-time Indian Wells champion Rafael Nadal was forced to work hard to stay on the title course at Indian Wells Tennis Garden, defeating Karen Khachanov 7-6, 7-6 in two hours and 16 minutes for the tenth semi-final at the opening Masters 1000 event of the season.
In the first semi-final, Roger Federer took down Hubert Hurkacz in 73 minutes and Nadal had to spend much more time on the court ahead of their 39th meeting on the Tour, prevailing over the Russian in two hours and 16 minutes for the sixth triumph in as many matches.
For the second time in a row (their US Open match from last year was one of the best clashes in 2018), Rafa had to give his best to topple the younger opponent, saving a set point in set number two and needing a strapping on the right knee that makes his fans worried ahead of Federer duel.
Karen blasted 17 aces and fended off seven out of nine break points to keep the pressure on Rafa all the time with two breaks from six opportunities he earned. The Russian finished the match with 36 winners and 32 unforced errors while Rafa stayed on a 25-16 ratio, losing the shortest points battle but erasing that deficit by beating Karen 46-25 in the rallies that have reached the fifth shot to cross the finish line first.
Khachanov fired up his strokes to break Rafa in the opening game of the match, settling into a nice rhythm in the opening two service games before Nadal broke back at 2-3 after a poor volley from Karen. The Russian had to dig deep at 4-5 as well, fending off four set points to reach the tie break that Nadal won 7-2 after precisely an hour.
They traded breaks in games five and six of set number two and this time it was Rafa who faced an ultimate challenge in the tenth game, saving a set point thanks to a loose half-volley fro Khachanov who never got the second invitation.
Rafa won the tie break 7-2 after a forehand error from his rival to seal the deal and join Roger in the semi-final, facing each other for the first time since Shanghai 2017 and hoping to beat the Swiss for the first time since 2014!