By Mark Lamport-Stokes
INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal continues his impressive comeback on Saturday by bidding for a place in the BNP Paribas Open final and top seed Novak Djokovic is not at all surprised by the Spaniard's swift progress.
World number five Nadal, who returned to the ATP circuit only last month after seven months on the sidelines last year with a left knee injury, will face sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych in the last four at Indian Wells.
"Well, it's sort of expected, considering the success throughout his career that he had on all the surfaces," Serbian world number one Djokovic told reporters on Friday about the Spaniard's form in his first hardcourt event in a year.
"It wasn't a big surprise, but, you know, there was always a wonder if he's going to feel physically fit or not to play four tournaments in five weeks. That's very demanding for somebody that's been off for seven months."
Nadal competed in three relatively minor claycourt events in South America last month, winning two of them after reaching all three finals.
The Spanish left-hander then arrived at the hard courts of Indian Wells to test his knee on the surface where his counter-punching style has often been least effective.
So far, the 11-times grand slam singles champion has flourished, winning his first two matches and gaining a walkover before booking his place in the last four by crushing long-time rival Roger Federer 6-2 6-4 on Thursday.
"Obviously he's building the confidence," said Djokovic, after cruising through his quarter-final on Friday in commanding fashion, winning 6-3 6-1 against Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
"He feels good, and he's very motivated, I'm sure, to perform his best. He's been playing great tennis."
Djokovic could meet Nadal in what would be a mouth-watering final on Sunday but for that to happen the Spaniard has to beat Berdych while the Serb will have to overcome Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.
"Del Potro is a powerful hitter from the back of the court, big serve," Djokovic said of the 2009 U.S. Open champion, who upset British world number three Andy Murray 6-7 6-3 6-1 in their quarter-final on Friday.
"He moves really well for his height. U.S. Open champion, so he knows how to play on the big stage."
For his part, Del Potro faces a daunting task against Australian Open champion Djokovic, who is unbeaten in 22 matches dating back to last October.
"Tomorrow against Nole I will need to play better than today," said the 6ft-6in (1.98 meter) Argentine, who has lost to Djokovic in their last four meetings.
"I remember the (most recent) match in Dubai I was close to winning the second set, but he takes all the chances to beat me. He's the No. 1. You never know if he give to you a little chance to win, you know."
Del Potro has beaten the Serb only twice in 10 career meetings but he has very fond memories of when he last tasted victory, winning 7-5 6-4 to claim the bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
"That match was very special for me," said the 24-year-old from Tandil. "Then we play in Cincinnati, in the U.S. Open, and Dubai and he beat me all the time.
"But all the matches are close with him. He already beat me in Dubai in two sets, very close two sets. I need to be very focused on any chances (that come) and try to take (them)."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)