MASON, Ohio -- Roger Federer came back from a set and a break down to defeat No. 13 Tommy Haas 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the third round of the Western and Southern Open to advance to the quarterfinals where he'll face Rafael Nadal for the 31st time in their careers on Friday night.
Playing in his first hard court tournament of the summer season, Federer, now ranked No. 5, quickly found himself down a set and 2-4 to his good friend Haas, who is having a career resurgence at 35. Federer, who has decided to abandon his new racket experiment in favor of his old 90-square inch Wilson frame, struggled with his rhythm off the ground.
"I think I had too many of those small hiccups that kept on adding up, because overall I wasn't playing terrible," Federer said. "I was just missing by a margin or putting myself in a tough spot."
"So I just held on hoping for Tommy's level to go down a bit or mine to go up a bit. Although at that point, in quick conditions, it's not up to you anymore. If he serves well, then he's home, and I knew that." Federer's instincts were right. Haas got tight as he got closer to the finish line and Federer was able to break Haas with cleaner hitting from the baseline and more decisive net play to take the second set 7-5 and rolling on to victory.
A back injury hampered Federer's play on clay last month, where he lost to two players ranked outside the Top 50 in back-to-back tournaments. He then withdrew from last week's Rogers Cup to allow his body to heal and give himself more time to practice. He looked sluggish to start the match, with his movements not as sharp as he would have liked.
"I thought [my movement] was a bit better the first match; today maybe a tiny bit slower," Federer admitted. "But that's also because then, you know, being down 6‑1, 3‑1, you don't feel like Superman out there. You feel a bit slower, you feel a bit weaker, you feel a bit softer, whatever it is. I was trying to push myself, but at the end, as the match wore on, I felt better."
"You know, those are the matches I knew I need right now. Every minute more in a match court is a good thing right now. Let's be honest, it gives me a lot of opportunity in the next match to do better. Gives me more information going to New York as well."
Federer will get his ultimate test in form when he takes on Nadal, who booked his spot in the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over Grigor Dimitrov Thursday night. Nadal has yet to lose a match this year on what is generally considered his worst surface, compiling a 13-0 record on hard courts and winning two ATP Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells, California and last week in Montreal, Canada, where he defeated No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
Nadal and Federer have played each other 30 times, with 27 of those meetings happening in the semifinals or final. For the second time this year they'll face off in the quarterfinals of a tournament, after Nadal defeated Federer 6-4, 6-2 in Indian Wells in the spring. He also beat Federer on clay in the final of the Italian Open in Rome. Nadal leads the head-to-head 20-10 and despite the familiarity of the challenge he still relishes their matches.
"I think matches against Roger always was special feelings," he said before the tournament. "We played all of the important matches for our careers, and combination of styles makes the match interesting. One player finding one thing, another one trying to find solutions to not let him play as he was. And it's a little bit more strategic match. And playing for big titles, that match made me feel very special every time."
Even though Nadal has a decisive lead in the head-to-head he rejected any implication that he would treat the match the same as if he was facing any other quarterfinal opponent. "Always play against Roger is a special feeling," he said after his third round win. "We have a great history behind us in our confrontations, so it's not another quarterfinals. It's a special one because you're playing against a very special player. Our matches were very special always."