Last year, it was Roger Federer beating Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells, showing us he’s got still a lot in the tank to win another Grand Slam title, which he did. It’s 2013, and Nadal is the comeback kid (off an injury), playing very well on both clay and hard courts, disposing of his elderly rival en route to the semifinal of the BNP Paribas Open.

It ended 6-4, 6-2, as Federer kept making error after error in another less than impressive display for him to kick off the 2013 season, following a humbling exit against Andy Murray in the Australian Open. He was less than impressive in his win over country-mate Stanislas Wawrinka in the previous round, and looked even worse in the second set against Nadal, not showing too much of a fight (injury, fatigue?), making unforced error after unforced error.

The level of the match was proof that this is no longer the premier rivalry in Tennis, despite the 28 Grand Slam titles the two players share. It was the first time since 2004 that the two didn’t meet in a semifinal or final, and the lack of sparks from the match, mostly because of Nadal’s different style and Federer’s depressing look on the court, were a huge contrast to every time Novak Djokovic meets with Andy Murray, the new rulers of the Tennis world, until something changes. It doesn’t look like Federer can.

I played a fantastic first set. The second set was strange. Roger didn’t fight as usual. Probably he had some problems and he didn’t feel enough comfortable to keep fighting. Two weeks ago I didn’t know if I can be here, and tomorrow I will be in semifinals here. But is a big surprise for me to have these results. I was able to practice just a little before the comeback. Important thing is be healthy. And if that happens and I’m able to practice as much as I can, as much as I want, probably that the comeback will be a little bit less difficult, no?

Nadal has gone through Ryan Harrison, Leonardo Mayer (walkover) and Ernests Gulbis before getting his old friend and rival in the quarterfinals. The two have been chummy all week; maybe that took a little bit out of the edge from Federer, with less to prove after his 2012 campaign, and somewhat of a worrying start in his 2013 form.

In general, that sounds like an excuse, but when your body gets older and everything slows down, a bit too much after being used to having it so easy in the previous years, not enough of a motivation can be a killer out there.

I’m happy to be out there and able to compete, but it’s obviously a small issue. You could see at least I could serve full basically, and that always gives you a direction. The longer the match went on, I realized I had to change up my game. I played differently than I was hoping to be able to. He got more comfortable as the match went on. Obviously, once I was down a set I knew it was going to be difficult.

Federer has been having problems with his back for over a year now, and didn’t want to talk about it so not to undermine Nadal’s performance  Yet he hinted about it, because you have to make some sort of excuse after all. The problem is, these kind of performances, even when the two meet feeling a little bit more confident about their healthy, might not be a one-time thing.