The 25-year-old will now meet Federer - the duo each having won two of their previous four encounters - after the Swiss was handed a walkover by virtue of Rafael Nadal's withdrawal on Saturday.
There was a shadow hanging over the blockbuster showdown however, after oft-injured Nadal needed treatment to have supportive tape applied to his right knee in his victory over Khachanov. The Spanish superstar, who has battled knee tendinitis and other injuries throughout his career, confirmed he won't compete at next week's Miami Masters, targeting a return to competition at Monte Carlo April 14-21.
Nadal stands in the way of Federer's pursuit of a record sixth title at Indian Wells. They've split wins, with Federer winning both of their hardcourt matches and Thiem winning once each on grass and clay.
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The Austrian said it would "mean the world" to break through for a Masters crown, but noted it would be a tall order against 20-time Grand Slam victor Federer - who is coming off a remarkable 100th career title in Dubai last month.
Nadal trailed 6-5 before Khachanov's forehand error forced the second tiebreaker, which Nadal dominated to close out the match that lasted just over two hours.
"He's playing very well, using the kick serve very effectively", Federer said after watching the final set of Thiem's semifinal win.
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"It's always something special to play [Federer] and also something special to compete in a Masters 1000 final", Thiem said after his semifinal match. Sometimes I feel sad because I'm in a disadvantage to all my opponents. "With all this stuff, I still where I am today".
'As I said yesterday after the match, I felt that something happened in the knee, ' Nadal said, quoted on the official ATP website. "This surface and also the one in NY, for example, it suits me pretty well because it's bouncy, especially during the day", Thiem said.
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