Five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Roger Federer may not have had to step on the court against second seed Rafael Nadal on Saturday, as the Spaniard withdrew from the tournament due to right knee pain. But nevertheless, Federer is on the verge of history in Indian Wells, one match away from becoming the first player to capture six titles in the California desert.
Federer, who is tied with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic at five Indian Wells crowns, will not have it easy in the final against seventh seed Dominic Thiem, who seeks his first ATP Masters 1000 title. This will be the pair’s fifth FedEx ATP Head2Head clash, with each player winning two of their previous meetings. Federer has triumphed in both of their hard court matches.
“I’m just excited to be in another finals here, to be quite honest,” Federer said. “It’s not the way I wanted to get there in a semi-finals walkover, but as we know, it’s how it goes sometimes in tennis.”
Federer has flown through the draw thus far at the first Masters 1000 event of the year, winning all eight sets he has played. The 37-year-old has been broken only once in the tournament, and that came in the second set of his opening-round victory against German Peter Gojowczyk.
Federer, who by triumphing in Dubai earlier this month became the second player in the Open Era to win 100 tour-level titles, is in position to erase bad memories from last year in Indian Wells, where he missed out on three championship points before losing to Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
“I hope I can play a great match. It’s a big tournament, big final for me tomorrow especially after last year’s tough loss against Juan Martin,” Federer said. “I would love to go all the way this year, we’ll see how it goes.”
Across the net will be a hungry Austrian in Thiem. The 25-year-old carries plenty of confidence into the match after his two-hour, 31-minute three-set win in the semi-finals against Milos Raonic. The World No. 8 had not lost a set before dropping the middle set against the Canadian. But he is ready to push for a Masters 1000 breakthrough on Sunday.
Watch Highlights Of Federer & Thiem’s Most Recent Meeting:
“I think he’s playing very well. I think he’s using the kick serve very effectively. The spins, they really bounce up high here in the desert air. I think he’s one of the fittest guys out there and can hit the ball the hardest. I think this surface suits him well for that,” Federer said. “I really hope I can play aggressive tennis against him. But I like his style. He uses the spins and the variations very effectively and for that I think we’ll see some interesting points tomorrow.”
Before this tournament, Thiem, a two-time Mutua Madrid Open finalist, had made the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 event on hard courts just once. Coincidentally, that was the most recent tournament at this level: the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters. He has only advanced to the quarter-finals in Indian Wells once, and owns just one win against a Top 10 opponent on the surface (1-10) compared to his eight on clay (8-10). But he feels comfortable on the courts at the BNP Paribas Open, which he believes are similar to those at the US Open, where he pushed Nadal to a fifth-set tie-break in the quarter-finals.
“I was preparing here for 12 days before the tournament. That helped, of course, a lot. This surface and also the one in New York, for example, it suits me pretty well because it’s bouncy, especially during the day,” Thiem said. “It’s not too fast, so it’s a little bit more similar to a clay court. The biggest adjustment is the moving, that I cannot slide around.”
Thiem has done a little bit of everything this tournament, from standing against the flowerbeds at the back of the court to return Raonic’s serves, to stepping up to the baseline to take gargantuan rips at his groundstrokes. One thing’s for sure — he’s going to try to use every tool in his arsenal to prevent Federer from lifting his 28th Masters 1000 title.
“It’s always something special to play him and also something special to compete in a Masters 1000 final. It’s only my third one,” Thiem said. “I know it’s going to be very tough, but same time, I will give everything to hopefully win my first title.”
Did You Know?
This will be Federer’s 153rd tour-level final, but his first against an Austrian. Federer holds a 10-4 record against Austrians, losing one match apiece against Stefan Koubek (2001 Vienna) and Jurgen Melzer (2011 Monte-Carlo).
ORDER OF PLAY – SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2019
Not Before 3:30 pm
ATP – SINGLES FINAL –  D. Thiem (AUT) vs  R. Federer (SUI)