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Indian Wells, Calif. • Rafael Nadal defeated error-prone Roger Federer 6-4, 6-2 in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open on Thursday night in the earliest meeting between the two rivals since they first played each other in 2004.
Nadal needed barely 1½ hours to close out the defending champion in their 29th career meeting and the first in a quarterfinal. Nadal faced just two break points on his serve in the match.
Nadal and Federer usually don't play each other until the semifinals and finals of tournaments, but the Indian Wells draw pitted them against each other in their earliest meeting since a third-round match at Miami nine years ago.
Nadal returned to the ATP Tour a month ago, winning two of three tournaments on clay after missing seven months because of a left knee injury. He had his knee wrapped and at times appeared to have a slight limp.
"No question, he's a bit careful at times, his movement. That's totally normal," Federer said. "Hasn't played for some time on hard court. I don't know if it's careful or if it's just getting used to it again."
Federer, at 31 the oldest player left in the draw, tweaked his back earlier in the tournament.
"I'm happy to be out there and able to compete, but it's obviously a small issue," he said. "That doesn't work against guys like Rafa, obviously."
Defending women's champion Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the event because of a right ankle injury that had been bothering the world's second-ranked player since before the tournament began.
Azarenka was scheduled to play No. 8 seed Caroline Wozniacki in an afternoon quarterfinal that would have pitted two former top-ranked players against each other.
"It's already really painful, but it's very high risk to make it much worse," Azarenka said.
Earlier, No. 7 seed Sam Stosur pulled out of her quarterfinal against No. 4 Angelique Kerber because of a right calf injury.