INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- No. 8 Roger Federer and No. 2 Novak Djokovic will renew their rivalry in the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday.
Federer rolled past Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals on Saturday, while Djokovic shook off a rocky finish to the second set to defeat John Isner 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-1. Federer leads Djokovic 17-15 and beat the Serb last month in the semifinals of the Dubai Championships.
Federer is into his third final out of four tournaments this season, already matching the number of finals and titles from 2013. He's seeking a record fifth title at Indian Wells, where he's 4-0 in finals but 0-1 against Djokovic, who won their meeting in the 2011 semifinals. Federer hasn't lost a set over the last two weeks while extending his winning streak to 11 matches.
"I'm just playing more freely overall and with more confidence because I can get to more balls without thinking," Federer said.
Federer will be back in the top five on Monday and he'll climb to No. 4 if he wins the title. The 32-year-old seems to have finally put his back problems behind him and it's shown in his vintage form.
"I can wake up in the morning without feeling sore," he said. "I can go to bed not feeling like I hope I feel better tomorrow. I don't have these thoughts going through my mind and I'm not worried every single minute of the day. So automatically you're more inspired and you're more happy as a person, for sure."
He's moving better than he was all last season and admits his 2014 success has come much faster than he anticipated.
"I expected myself to play better starting March/April, sort of this time," he said. "Maybe Miami [next week], clay maybe."
Check out Federer's movement and anticipation in this scrambling point against Dolgopolov:
There are no secrets between Djokovic and Federer. This will be their 33rd meeting and they've played three times in the last four and a half months.
"He didn't have a great 2013 by his standards," Djokovic said of Federer. "This year he's playing like he played for most of his career, and on a very high level. He played great in Dubai. We had a tough, interesting match in the semifinals. Whenever we play each other, it's always a huge challenge for both of us, and very few points can decide the winner."
Said Federer of Djokovic: "He's fresh and eager to really try to win this because he hasn't played many tournaments yet this season. He really wants it, and that's going to be a challenge for me to accept that and fight that with good play myself."
Djokovic has yet to show his best form in three tournaments this season and that continued against Isner. The Serb has not been shy about admitting he's had problems closing out matches. On Saturday, he was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set, winning just one point in those two service games and then getting rolled by Isner's big hitting in the tiebreaker. He rebounded well in the final set, but by then Isner was visibly troubled by a knee injury. It was Djokovic's first win over the big-serving American at a Masters 1000 tournament on U.S. soil, having lost to Isner at the 2012 BNP Paribas Open and 2013 Western & Southern Open.
"I can't always expect myself to win straight sets and be dominant every single year," Djokovic said. "There are so many players out there who are working as hard as I do, and they want to win as much as I do. ... The win is a win, and at the end of the day, I'm very happy with the way I overcame the mental challenges this week and managed to arrive to the finals. For me, that's already a big success."
A two-time champion at Indian Wells, Djokovic has been forced to three sets three times at this tournament, against Marin Cilic, Alejandro Gonzaelez and now Isner. The tennis season is a long one, but it's hard to shake the idea that Djokovic desperately needs the title here to get his confidence going.
"I don't think that, especially in the last 15 matches, when we played against each other there was a clear favorite," Djokovic said. "So we played a lot of great, great matches in Grand Slams and Masters Series events and tournaments. I look forward to it. It's always a challenge in every way for me to, win against Roger." Prediction: Federer in three sets. He's looked so sharp here and his defense has been incredible.