Federer dismantled his great rival with a scintillating display in Indian Wells to reach the quarter-finals of the BNP Paribas Open, hitting 26 winners in a 6-2 6-4 success.
Question marks were hanging over Federer’s glittering career when he missed the second half of last season due to injury problems, but the 35-year-old answered those with a stunning comeback win in the Australian Open in January, where he beat Nadal in an epic final.
That went to five sets in Melbourne, but the Swiss needed just over an hour to get the better of the Spaniard, in arguably his best performance of any of the 36 instalments of this lasting rivalry.
“It’s a nice feeling to win the last three. I can tell you that,” Federer said in his post-match press conference.
“But most importantly, I won Australia. That was big for me. On the comeback, I look back at that and think that was one of the coolest things I ever experienced in my career.
“All the matches that we have played are unique in many ways for both of us, winning or losing. So I take it.
“For me, it was all about coming out and trying to play the way I did in Australia. I didn’t think it was going to be that possible, to be quite honest, because the court is more jumpy here so it’s hard to put the ball away.
“So getting in the lead was crucial, and then staying on the offence and pressing was the goal for me.
“It was a really good performance by me, I thought.”
In a match where conditions were supposed to favour Nadal’s wicked top spin forehand, Federer hit his opponent off the court.
The tone was set in the opening game where Federer sent down two scorching backhand winners to take Nadal’s serve and a second break soon after wrapped up the set in just 36 minutes.
Two more breaks followed in the second set, the second of which sealed the win, with match point being converted with another sizzling backhand winner.
Federer’s reward for the victory is a last-eight meeting with Australian Nick Krygios, who earlier stunned Novak Djokovic with a superb straight sets win.
Nadal was off his game and knew Federer was the better player.
He said: “He returned well. But at the same time, it was obvious that I didn’t have the right answer for his returns. I needed to neutralise the points. I needed to neutralise his two first balls, and I didn’t.
“So I was not enough good tonight and he deserved the victory, for sure. Very easy.”