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Roger Federer faces Rafael Nadal for the 39th time at the BNP Paribas Open.

Federer: 'It's Been Quite A Journey With Rafa'

Federer and Nadal to face off Saturday at BNP Paribas Open

Most players would feel confident facing an opponent they’ve beaten five times in a row, but the Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal rivalry is a slightly different case.

After Federer defeated Hubert Hurkacz and Nadal defeated Karen Khachanov on Friday at the BNP Paribas Open, the two men will renew their historic series on Saturday in Indian Wells. Although Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 23-15, Federer has won their past five matches and all of them were on hard courts.

But throughout the 15 years they’ve shared the court, there have also been times when Nadal has dominated their history. With their last battle taking place 17 months ago in the Rolex Shanghai Masters final, the Swiss star believes the slate will be wiped clean on Saturday.

“A lot of time has gone by. A lot has happened in those 18 months… you can’t just copy/paste and play exactly the same thing again,” said Federer. “He’s at a higher level than he was at the Australian Open… especially in a place like Indian Wells, where he feels comfortable, he’s clearly very tough to play.”

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The potential for a Federer and Nadal clash has been on everyone’s mind ever since the draw was made last week. While the two men facing off several times per year used to be standard, each time they play each other now has become an experience to be cherished even further. With Federer competing in his 21st year on tour and Nadal his 18th, it’s understandable to wonder how many more times fans will get to watch them trade blows. The rare chance to watch them play makes it little surprise that tickets are sold out for Saturday, with the cheapest ticket in the upper bowl of Stadium 1 running for $350.

But what continues to makes the rivalry compelling is that despite drastic differences in playing styles and personalities, they’ve always found common ground and a healthy respect for each other

“The way we go about it is very different, but yet we both find a way to excel,” said Federer. “The way he came up was very clay-court based, and I was apparently very grass-court based, and we both found our ways on other surfaces…I think it all adds to the cool rivalry that we’ve had. And then you add all the foundation stuff we have, promotional things we have done for the tour, political things, whatever it has been, it's been quite a journey with Rafa side by side.”

Saturday’s showdown has all the makings of a blockbuster clash because both of them will arrive in peak form, although it's unclear how Nadal's knee soreness that he battled against Khachanov will be a factor. Neither player has dropped a set this fortnight and they’re playing with plenty of confidence, but Federer knows he will need to maintain that level if he wants to continue towards a record sixth Indian Wells title.

“I'm holding my serve comfortably. I'm in a good place mentally when I go into my service games, so I hope I can keep that up. You obviously need to against Rafa,” said Federer. “At this stage of the tournament, you have to bring your best game.”