Tennis: Federer battles to Indian Wells quarter-final

Defending champion Roger Federer beat one familiar opponent on Wednesday to line up a quarter-final clash at Indian Wells with another old foe -- Rafael Nadal.

Federer battled past fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 7-5 to set up his anticipated date with former world number one Nadal.

Nadal went through with a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis.

"Obviously playing Rafa, it's a classic," Federer said. "We have played so many times. We know each other really well on and off the court. We know what to expect, both of us."

One novelty aspect of Thursday night's showdown is just how early in the tournament it is taking place.

Apart from round-robin play in the ATP Finals, Nadal and Federer have not met ahead of semi-finals since 2004, when the Spaniard was still a rising teenage star.

Nadal leads their head-to-head series 18-10, but Federer noted that both players are unknown quantities right now.

The Swiss great, owner of 17 Grand Slam titles, has yet to win a trophy this year, while Nadal returned in February from seven months rehabilitating his troublesome left knee.

"We are both a bit suspect going into our match, so it's an interesting match-up," Federer said.

"It's not like a first round, but it still is early in the tournament. In the past this match used to be a final, now it's a quarter-final, so obviously it's a bit of bad luck of the draw for both of us."

Federer admitted he had something of a lucky escape against Wawrinka.

Although he improved to 13-1 against his old friend and gold medal-winning doubles partner from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he needed two hours and 20 minutes to do so.

Serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set he was broken at love. Unable to convert two break points in the following game he surrendered the set on a tiebreaker when he double faulted on set point.

Wawrinka then gained the upper hand with a break in the third set, but Federer broke back in the next game and earned the decisive break in the final game as Wawrinka smacked a volley into the net.

For Wawrinka it was another bitter disappointment in 2013. He was beaten 12-10 in the fifth set of a five-hour fourth-round encounter with Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, and came up on the losing end of a marathon doubles defeat in a Davis Cup tie against the Czech Republic.

"Today for sure I had some chances," Wawrinka said. "I found my game. I was close, but not enough."