(ESPN) - The final point of the match lasted just a fraction of a second but summed up months of hard work
. Down 5-3 in the second set and serving at 15-40, Rafael Nadal kicked a second serve down the middle of the deuce court, only to see Roger Federer unleash a clean backhand winner down the line.
That fleeting moment left Rafa looking stunned, as he had all match. All he could do was shake his head as he trotted to the net.
It was over in 68 minutes, and frankly, this one took your breath away -- but not in the way we might have expected. Federer won 6-2, 6-3 with a lights-out performance Wednesday to reach the Indian Wells quarterfinals.
Federer's dominance was, to be honest, beyond astonishing, and he can thank his backhand for the supreme effort.
For years, Nadal has exploited that wing -- consistently hitting his high-hopping, lefty forehand to Federer's righty backhand -- but in the Australian Open final, Federer's backhand was difference. The conviction behind it was different.
Standing inside the baseline in Melbourne -- thus hitting the ball a good foot lower -- Federer often hammered that backhand, low and hard. Ultimately, it won him the match. It happened again in Indian Wells. What used to be a liability against Nadal is now a strength.
"By coming over my backhand on the return, from the get-go of the point, I can dominate points right away," Federer said in his on-set interview on Tennis Channel. "It's important to keep your opponent off-guard and know that he has to be careful."
Once again, the Federer backhand is trending -- and, quite possibly, better than ever. Who does he think he is, Stan Wawrinka? This is more evidence that the six-month sabbatical from competition was a decidedly good thing.
That turnaround can be traced back to Federer's decision three years ago to go to a larger Wilson racket head. Eight square inches might not seem like a lot, but when Federer abandoned his trusty 90-inch model and upgraded to a 98-inch version, it led to a little more thump, particularly on his weaker side, the backhand.