Roger Federer will return to the top five for the first time since last August after beating Kevin Anderson at Indian Wells. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Welcome back to the top five, Roger Federer. The four-time BNP Paribas Open champion put on a clinic on Thursday night to defeat No. 18 Kevin Anderson 7-5, 6-1 and advance to the semifinals, where he'll face Alexandr Dolgopolov on Saturday.
Coming into the tournament ranked No. 8, Federer was a top-five staple for more than 10 years before he slumped last season and dropped out in August. He has rebounded incredibly well this season, making the final at the Brisbane International and semifinals of the Australian Open and winning the Dubai Championships. By reaching the semifinals here, he will rise to at least No. 5 on Monday and could move to No. 4 if he wins the title.
Federer is surprised the good results have come as quickly as they have.
"There is a sense of calmness to my game right now," he said after extending his winning streak to nine with his fourth consecutive straight-set victory at Indian Wells. "Also confidence. But also that grit and wanting-to-win-badly feeling is out there, which was hard to find at times last year. So now I got it all."
With the upsets of Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka and Andy Murray in his half of the draw, Federer's path to the title has eased significantly. The only man left in the draw ranked ahead of him is No. 2 Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the Dubai semifinals last month. Djokovic plays Julien Benneteau in the quarterfinals on Friday.
"Last year I wasn't quite [healthy] for most of the year," Federer said. "So then I can't also expect so much from myself. But then when I do feel good again, this is kind of what I expect from myself. It's nice proving it to myself and the team and my fans that they can still count on me. It's nice giving yourself opportunities to win a tournament, no doubt about that."
Federer has played Dolgopolov only once, at the 2010 Swiss Indoors, when the Ukrainian retired trailing 6-4, 5-2. The two played a number of practice matches in Dubai during the offseason and Federer is well aware of the 25-year-old's shotmaking ability. Dolgopolov is in form, too, as he upset Nadal in the third round and made the semifinals for the third tournament in a row.
"He really takes the ball early," Federer said. "He likes to take advantage of the fact that when there is a short ball he just smashes it. And he's got a great serve. He's super athletic. Maybe the hard work is paying off right now. ... [There are] definitely going to be some interesting shots out there."