INDIAN WELLS, United States (REUTERS, AFP) - World No. 1 Roger Federer survived a scare from unseeded Borna Coric to beat him 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the BNP Paribas Open semi-finals on Saturday (March 17) and keep his bid for a record sixth Indian Wells title alive.
The crowd erupted when Federer broke Coric to love to take the deciding set and end the unexpectedly competitive 2hr 20min battle against the 21-year-old Croat on a windy morning in the California desert.
An upset was on the cards when the speedy Coric used his ferocious backhand to take the first set off the Swiss legend, the first time Federer had dropped a set at Indian Wells in nine matches.
He then broke Federer to start the second set and silence the stunned crowd.
But despite playing below his usual standards, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was able to eek out victory by finding his serving rhythm and winning the biggest points of the match as nerves finally caught up with Coric.
"Those 10 minutes when he was up a set and a break were tough for me to accept," Federer said during an on-court interview.
"I had to move on with it and say that I was just happy to stay in the game. Maybe he's going to get a bit nervous and I think that's exactly what happened," he said.
"And I got a bit lucky too of course. It was a good match and a tough one for him."
With the win, the 36-year-old Federer improved to 17-0 for the year, his best-ever start to a season.
Next up for the Swiss is Argentinian world No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro, who raced past Milos Raonic in straight sets.
The former US Open winner improved to 16-3 on the season with his 6-2, 6-3 victory over the hard-serving Canadian in just 65 minutes.
Del Potro is looking for his 22nd career and second straight ATP title in a row after winning earlier this month in Acapulco, where he beat three top eight players in a row.
"I broke his serve quick in both sets and that gave me control of the match," he said. "It was an easier match than I expected."
This is the 29-year-old's second trip to the Indian Wells championship match, having lost to Rafael Nadal in 2013 after beating Novak Djokovic in the semis.
The last time del Potro and Federer played was last year in the Basel final where the latter won 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-3.
"I love to play against him," the Argentinian said. "Everybody was expecting that final, and I will try to enjoy the atmosphere on court."