Nadal advanced to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over Federer on Friday night, a vintage rematch that reinforced their head-to-head standings for now.
Nadal improved to 21-10 against his top rival, including wins all of their three matches this year. A close match came down to a few points, and Nadal got most of them.
"Always the emotion's out there when we play each other," Nadal said.
Their first meeting in Cincinnati highlighted a day of upsets in the men's bracket. No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray lost in the quarterfinals. No. 1 Serena Williams moved on in the women's bracket.
Nadal moves on, too, playing Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.
It's been a summer of resurgence for the 27-year-old Spaniard. He missed the end of last season with a knee injury, but has gotten into one of the best stretches this season. He takes a career-best 51-3 mark into the semifinal, including a 14-1 against Top 10 opponents.
It's been a rough summer for Federer, who was beaten by a player ranked 116th in the world at Wimbledon. And that was just the start. The 32-year-old Swiss star kept getting upset and struggled with a sore back.
Federer hoped that his week in Cincinnati would help him repair his game. He's won the tournament an unprecedented five times. As the week went along, his game got noticeably better, leaving him optimistic about the U.S. Open.
"I can definitely take more things away from this week than I could for the last sort of three months," Federer said. "So I'm happy about that. That sets it up nicely for me for New York, I think."
Their match was as good as any in the tournament.
Federer got the first break to go up 6-5 in the opening set and finished it off with a crosscourt backhand. Nadal got his first break of the match to win the second set. He broke Federer again in the second game of the third set to take control.
They moved each other around, hit the lines and lobbed over each other's heads, making one exquisite shot after another while bringing fans to their feet.
Federer fought off four match points before Nadal put it away.
"Could have won tonight, should have won tonight, who knows?" Federer said. "But at the end, I think Rafa's confidence and the way he's playing at the moment got him through."
While Federer and Nadal rekindled a famous rivalry, the top-ranked player had another disappointment on Cincinnati's fast, blue courts. It's the only place that Djokovic can't win.
Top-ranked American John Isner ended his attempt to make ATP history on Friday, prevailing 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-5.
Djokovic has never won in Cincinnati, where he's lost in the finals four times, including last year to Federer. All he needs to do is hoist the winner's trophy one time in Cincinnati to become the first player to win all nine ATP Masters events.
Wait until next year. Again.
"It's disappointing that I played this way," Djokovic said. "For me, it's very disappointing."
Isner reached the semifinals in Cincinnati for the first time, knocking off a No. 1 for only the second time in his career. His other No. 1 upset? He beat Djokovic at Indians Wells in the semifinals last year.
"A fantastic win for me," Isner said. "Certainly one of my greatest memories as a tennis player."
He'll play seventh-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, who advanced Friday by beating qualifier Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Del Potro, who has a sore wrist and knee, is in the semifinals for the second straight year.
Soon after Djokovic got knocked out, Murray was gone, too. He failed to convert a break point while losing 6-3, 6-4 to Berdych, who also beat him in the quarterfinals at Madrid.
In the women's draw, Williams needed only 64 minutes to beat Simona Halep 6-0, 6-4. She'll play Li Na, who advanced to the semifinals automatically when No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska withdrew to attend her grandfather's funeral.
Like Djokovic, Williams has never won in Cincinnati, which has become one of her goals. She struggles with the conditions on court and wasn't happy with her overall level of play on Friday.
"I have quite a few things on my tennis bucket list," Williams said. "This obviously is one of them. But I like to believe if it doesn't happen this year, I always have another chance."
Fourteenth-seeded Jelena Jankovic beat 12th-seeded Roberta Vinci 6-0, 6-4 to reach the semifinals for the third time. She won the tournament in 2009 and lost the title match to Maria Sharapova in 2011.
"I love playing here in Cincinnati because I have great results in the past," said Jankovic, who fought off eight of nine break points in the second set. "So that always helps. I mean, I was a finalist and a champion before, so you always love coming back to places where you can win."
She'll play No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, who beat Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 7-6 (5) in the final match Friday night. Azarenka had to withdraw at Toronto last week because of a sore lower back, but reached the semifinals in Cincinnati for the first time.