Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer normally don’t play each other until the semifinals or finals of tournaments, but that was not the case last night at Indian Wells, Calif. Nadal, seeded fifth and on the comeback trail after a seven month hiatus due to a knee injury, battled No. 2 seed Federer in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open, their earliest meeting since a third-round match at Miami nine years ago. Rafa handily defeated the error-prone defending champion 6-4, 6-2 in their first matchup since last year’s semifinals here at Indian Wells. Nadal returned to the tour in February, winning two of three clay-court tournaments on the Golden Swing in South America. The former top-ranked Spaniard improved to 19-10 in his long-time rivalry with the Swiss Maestro. “I played a fantastic first set,” Nadal said. “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.” Federer, at 31 the oldest player remaining in the draw, tweaked his back earlier in the tournament, but didn’t make any excuses. “I’m happy to be out there and able to compete, but it’s obviously a small issue,” he said of his delicate back. “That doesn’t work against guys like Rafa, obviously.” Nadal got the only break of the first set in the seventh game and never faced a break point, while winning 82 percent of the points on his first serve. The Spaniard broke in the first and third games of the second set to go up 3-0, but Federer offered a bit of resistance by breaking back in the fourth game. Federer’s rally was brief, though, as Rafa broke again in the seventh game and served it out to take the match in one hour and 24 minutes. “Two weeks ago I didn’t know if I can be here, and tomorrow I will be in semifinals here,” Nadal said. “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 hit 19 winners to 13 for his opponent and committed just 13 unforced errors. The out-of-sorts Federer had 30.