A somber Nadal announced his withdrawal a couple hours before he was scheduled to take the court at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Both came through their respective quarter final matches yesterday to ensure the semi final scrap, with Spaniard Nadal eventually making his way past Russian tournament 12th seed Karen Khachanov 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2) in an extremely close match, and Federer beat unseeded Pole Hubert Hurkacz.
"For me it is not about today only", the world number two said.
There was a shadow hanging over the blockbuster showdown however, after oft-injured Nadal needed treatment to have supportive tape applied to his right knee in his victory over Khachanov. "A lot has happened in those 18 months... you can't just copy/paste and play exactly the same thing again", said Federer.
He admitted that he sometimes is sad because he feels at a disadvantage against his opponents due to his continued knee issues that force him to limit his practice and playing time.
The year began promisingly enough.
"Overall I'm very pleased with that performance", said Federer, who has reached the final four without dropping a set, winning 38 of his 39 service games. "Now it starts the process that I have to decide what direction we have to take to recover well and to recover as soon as possible".
Nadal now leads 23-15 in their head-to-head, but Federer has won the last five of their meetings.
Federer received a walkover to the final, where he will play either Austria's Dominic Thiem or Milos Raonic of Canada.
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