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Nadal prevails over erratic Federer

April 2, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

KEY BISCAYNE (AP) - Rafael Nadal usually receives a trophy when he beats Roger Federer. This time, the reward is a chance to play Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final at the Sony Ericsson Open.

Nadal advanced with surprising ease Friday night, drubbing an erratic Federer 6-3, 6-2.

The Spaniard never lost serve, converted four of five break-point chances and committed only 10 unforced errors to 31 for Federer.

The first matchup in the United States in six years between Rafa and Roger was a clunker instead of a classic, disappointing a capacity crowd that tried in vain to inspire a Federer comeback by chanting his name. They met before the final round for the first time since 2007 because Federer recently slipped from second to third in the rankings and landed in Nadal's half of the draw.

Now, the No. 1-ranked Nadal and No. 2 Djokovic will play for the championship. Djokovic won the tournament in 2007, while Nadal is seeking his first Key Biscayne title.

Djokovic stretched his winning streak to 25 consecutive matches by beating Mardy Fish in the other semifinal, 6-3, 6-1. Three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova seeks her first Key Biscayne title Saturday when she plays 2009 champion Victoria Azarenka.

Nadal vs. Federer generated the buzz of a final, with tickets shortly before the match fetching several hundred dollars. But Federer came out flat, committing four unforced errors to lose serve and fall behind 2-1.

That was part of a stretch where Nadal won 13 of 15 points to take control. He lost only two of 18 points on his serve in the first set.

The restless crowd began chanting "Ro-ger!" in the second set, but some fans would answer with a competing "Ra-fa!" The din didn't change the course of the match.

Federer had trouble coping with the velocity of Nadal's groundstrokes, shanking half a dozen shots, including one to reach match point. Then Federer put a tentative forehand in the net, and it was over after only 75 minutes.

Nadal improved to 15-8 against Federer. Nadal is 16-8 against Djokovic but lost when they met in the final at Indian Wells two weeks ago.

That's one of three titles Djokovic has won this year, including the Australian Open. His record of 23-0 in 2011 is the best record to begin a year since Ivan Lendl started 25-0 in 1986.

Even so, Djokovic is claiming the role of underdog Sunday.

"I obviously wouldn't feel like a favorite," he said. "For me to win, I will be have to be on the top of my game."

Fish, who earned the No. 1 American ranking thanks to his run this week, hung with Djokovic for a while but went 0 for 6 on break points. Djokovic erased three with aces and another with a service winner.

The Serb's serve was his biggest weakness only a year ago, but it's much-improved since. He has yet to be broken in 40 service games at Key Biscayne, erasing all 15 break points he has faced.

"I don't feel invincible," Djokovic said. "I don't feel that I can't lose on the court. What I feel is big confidence. What I feel is that I'm playing best tennis of my life."

Djokovic also is dominating long rallies, another reason he has lost only 18 games in five rounds.

"He's moving better than anyone right now, no doubt about it, on a hard court," Fish said. "It's his playground right now."

Rain halted the match at 2-all for 54 minutes, and Djokovic said he found conditions less windy and more favorable when play resumed. He stuck out his chest after he won a grueling baseline rally to break for a 4-2 lead.

Fish's best chance to get back in the match came three games later, but he failed to put away a drive volley on break point and Djokovic served out the set.

It was a runaway from there.

"I didn't win any of the big points," Fish said. "None of them. I left a lot of shots out there today. That's what's disappointing."

His consolation: He'll climb ahead of fellow American Andy Roddick to a career-best 11th in next week's rankings.



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