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Rafael Nadal took another step in his return from injury with a convincing victory over a hurting Roger Federer on Thursday in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells Masters.
Nadal broke Federer three times in the second set en route to a 6-4, 6-2 victory over the 17-time Grand Slam champion, who has been nursing a nagging back injury.
"I don't think Roger was 100 percent tonight," said Nadal, who nevertheless said the win over his great rival was a key step in his comeback from a seven-month absence rehabilitating his damaged left knee.
"I'm very happy to be in the semi-finals," Nadal said. "It was an important win for me -- they all are now."
Nadal, the former world No. 1 and winner of 11 Grand Slam titles, returned in February and notched one runner-up finish and two titles in a three-tournament Latin American clay-court swing.
But Nadal hadn't tested his knee on hard courts since pulling out of the Miami Masters last March.
Nadal improved to 19-10 against Federer in a rivalry stretching back to 2004 and including some epic clashes on the game's biggest stages.
But they hadn't met since their semi-final meeting here last year, which Federer won en route to his fourth Indian Wells crown.
Nadal didn't face a break point in the opening set, kept the pressure on Federer's serve and earned the only break he needed in the seventh game for a 4-3 lead.
He secured the set with a service winner on his fourth set point.
Nadal, making effective use of his forehand, sped to a 3-0 lead with two breaks of serve in the second set.
Federer regained a break in the fourth game -- his first break chance of the match -- but an uncharacteristic number of errors kept him from making any more inroads and Nadal wrapped up the victory after one hours and 24 minutes when Federer netted a backhand.
"It's obviously a small issue," Federer said of the back trouble that he has received treatment for throughout the tournament. "That doesn't work against a guy like Rafa.
"At least I could serve full, and that always gives you a direction," added Federer, who said he didn't want to harp on his injury and take away from Nadal's performance.
Federer now heads into a break of several weeks. He had already said he wouldn't play the Miami Masters starting next week and currently plans to return at Madrid in May.
Berdych has reached the final four without dropping a set and said his run in the first Masters tournament of the year was a morale booster, especially coming after such impressive wins this season as a semi-final win over Federer in Dubai, where Berdych saved three match points to advance.
"It feels great," the 27-year-old said. "It's the first Masters of the year, it's very important for me for the confidence."