INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- March isn't looking much different from January on the tennis calendar. The men's semifinals at the BNP Paribas Open will feature rematches of two of the most riveting finals of the year, both of which took place on Australian soil.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Andy Murray face off in a rematch of the Australian Open final (2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT), which Djokovic won 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, 6-0. The other semifinal sees No. 6 Milos Raonic crash the Big Four party after a strong 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 win over No. 3 Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. He'll play No. 2 Roger Federer, in a rematch of their Brisbane International final, which Federer won 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Had Nadal converted one of his three match points against Raonic, it would have been the first time since the 2012 Australian Open that the ATP's Big Four made it to the semis.
Saturday's semifinal will be the 25th career meeting between defending champion Djokovic and Murray. Djokovic leads the head-to-head 16-8 and is 5-0 since losing to Murray in the 2013 Wimbledon final. Djokovic has cruised into the semifinals without losing a set and will be well-rested after receiving a walkover from Bernard Tomic in the quarterfinals. Tomic withdrew due to a back injury.
Murray has lost only one set and played his sharpest match of the tournament in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Feliciano Lopez in the quarterfinals. Saturday's match is likely to be another physical battle between the two baseliners on a slow hard court that can favor returners. These two have only played once in Indian Wells, in 2007, where Djokovic won 6-2, 6-3 in the semifinals. The Serb has won the title here three times, while Murray has made the final just once.
"He's played extremely well here in the past," Murray said. "He will be totally fresh as well and ready for the semis, so it will be a tough one for me. But I feel like I played well this week, and if I can keep that level up and for a sustained period on Saturday, I'll have a chance."
If Murray can bring his A-game against the nearly impervious Djokovic, you can expect a lot of rallies like this:
The other semifinal features the 10th meeting between four-time champion Federer and Raonic. Federer leads the head-to-head 8-1 but Raonic has shown signs that's he's closing the gap. The Canadian, who has made the quarterfinals or better at eight of his last ten ATP Masters 1000 events, beat Federer at the Paris Indoor Masters last fall and nearly rallied from a set and a break down to upend Federer's bid for the Brisbane title in January. His three-set win over Nadal was his first over the Spaniard. He credited his growing experience in playing the top guys for his resilience on Friday.
"I think it's having better match judgment of when to sort of step up, when you can sort of hold back," Raonic said. "What moments it's just good enough to play it through and not get too caught up in the person you're playing and respect them, but not give them too much overwhelming respect where it affects your tennis."
That increase in confidence was evident against Nadal. Down match points and facing continuous pressure from Nadal, Raonic never blinked. He served 19 aces in the match and found some of his biggest bombs when the scoreline was tight. He saved six of seven break points in the match. "It's obvious Milos going on court can win against every player of the tour, because with that serve, if he serves well you know that you gonna be in the tiebreak, probably," Nadal said. Despite the loss Nadal was happy with his progress through the tournament and his ability to compete for nearly three hours against such a tricky opponent.
"Feeling that I was there fighting for the victory against a top player again in a good surface for him is a big improvement for me," Nadal said. The loss was his first in the quarterfinal stage at Indian Wells. "I am not very sad. I'm not happy about the final result, but I am happy because, as I said before the tournament, I am much closer than one month and a half of what I want to be. I had a lot of chances to win today. Maybe I should win."
Asked to preview the Federer-Raonic semifinal, Nadal believes the Federer serve will be the difference. "[He] didn't have a lot of opportunities to have break on my serve. The bigger difference with Roger, especially on that surface, is he has a great serve, too. The opponent feels that. Milos felt that [he] can attack sometimes with my serve. Against Roger, he probably will not have that chance, because Roger is serving well."
Highlights from Federer's win over Raonic in Brisbane:
The surface could play a role as well. Raonic's best matches against Federer came on quick hard courts like Paris and Brisbane. But the slower surface in Indian Wells could hold his ball up just enough to allow Federer to chip in more returns and make Raonic play. Raonic, who has been broken just once in the tournament, needs a top-notch serving day to give him room on his service games.