Federer, Nalbandian advance to semifinals

Thursday, November 16th 2006, 10:32 am

By: News On 6

SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ Roger Federer reached the Masters Cup semifinals for a fifth straight year and helped defending champion David Nalbandian along with him.

Nalbandian ousted Andy Roddick 6-2, 7-6 (4) Thursday for his first win of the round-robin stage. That assured Federer a place in the semis and ended Roddick's hopes.

Nalbandian then needed top-ranked Federer to beat Ivan Ljubicic in the last Red Group round-robin to advance.

And Federer delivered 7-6 (2), 6-4 _ extending his winning streak to 27 and making him 15-0 in Masters Cup round-robin matches.

Federer, broken in the opening game, closed with an ace in 1-hour, 33-minutes after breaking fourth-ranked Ljubicic once in each set.

The 25-year-old Swiss star has made the Masters Cup semifinals each year since his debut in 2002, and is chasing his third title at the season-ending championship.

``In the end what I care about is that I came through it, and not really who's the other guy,'' Federer said. ``But it's still a bit of a surprise, of course, that Nalbandian came through again.

``I guess he deserved it because he should have beaten Ljubicic yesterday and he beat Roddick convincingly today.''

Roddick, who blew three match points against Federer two days ago, slumped out on a countback.

``It's a downer, don't get me wrong, but I can still take a lot of positives away from the last four months,'' Roddick said.

Nalbandian, Roddick and Croatia's Ljubicic all ended 1-2, with Nalbandian advancing due to the best percentage of sets won.

``In this group, it's tough to win just one match,'' said Nalbandian. ``I'm sure if I do it, I'll be ready for semis.

``Sometimes you need a little of luck.''

Ljubicic beat Nalbandian in their round-robin match and said it was ``weird that you see the guy who you beat and he's in the semifinal.''

``But he beat Andy in two sets and he's through. And playing the way he was playing today, I think he deserved the semifinal.''

Nalbandian, who upset Federer to win last year's Masters Cup final, said it was difficult to enjoy the win after learning that a young relative had died in an accident at home in Argentina.

``It was terrible (but) I can do nothing from here,'' he said. ``I try to push as hard as I can on the court.''

The night started poorly for the fifth-ranked Roddick, who was broken in the opening game and again in his third service game.

Nalbandian kept up the pressure in the second set, breaking Roddick in the seventh game on consecutive errors from the American.

But he admitted getting nervous when serving for the match, Roddick breaking back to level at 5-5 after getting breakpoint on the 24-year-old Argentine's double-fault.

In the tiebreaker, Roddick wasted a mini-break at 3-1 and then had a double-fault _ his first of the match _ to give Nalbandian a 5-3 cushion.

Nalbandian set up match point with an overhead winner and closed when Roddick netted a return.

Roddick was philosophical about ending the season on two losses.

He slipped out of the top 10 in July for the first time in four years before joining forces with Jimmy Connors and compiling an 18-2 record in the summer circuit, including a U.S. Open final loss to Federer.

``I think two nights ago was a little bit more emotionally taxing than tonight,'' Roddick said. ``Let's put it in perspective. Going into the summer, I think I was 18 in the champions race with people questioning if I would ever play top-level tennis again _ I righted that.''

In the doubles, top-ranked U.S. pair Bob and Mike Bryan missed out on a semifinal spot after losing to Paul Hanley of Australia and Zimbabwe's Kevin Ullyett 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.

The Bryans, assured of the year-end No. 1 ranking, finished 1-2 in the round-robin format.

Hanley and Ullyett were undefeated in the Red Group, while sixth-seeded Martin Damm and Leander Paes advanced following a 6-4, 7-6 (6) win over Israeli pair Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.

Three pairs finished 1-2, with Damm-Paes advancing on the better sets record.

James Blake (2-0) has secured one semifinal spot from the Gold Group ahead of his last match Friday against No. 6 Tommy Robredo (0-2). No. 2 Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko meet Friday to determine who else advances.

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