Top ranking at stake in semifinal

Updated: January 28, 2004, 7:58 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer and Juan Carlos Ferrero had hard-fought victories Wednesday to set up a semifinal showdown for the world's top ranking at the Australian Open.

Federer will become No. 1 for the first time if he beats Ferrero, who needs to win the tournament to regain the top spot that he held for eight weeks last year.

"I think my math is good enough to figure that out," Federer said, referring to the complicated points ranking system.

Current No. 1 Andy Roddick was assured of slipping in the rankings after being upset by Marat Safin in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Ferrero continued his run for his second Grand Slam by defeating Morocco's Hicham Arazi 6-1, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5). Second-seeded Federer beat No. 8 David Nalbandian 7-5, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.

Federer's victory gained him some revenge. Nalbandian beat the 22-year-old Swiss player in the fourth round of the Australian and U.S. Opens last year and had a 5-1 edge in head-to-head meetings.

Federer didn't feel the match lived up to expectations, especially with him committing 55 unforced errors. Still, he did enough to win.

At 5-5 in the first set, Federer faced double break point but ripped four straight aces to hold.

"That was maybe the key of the match," Federer said.

He broke Nalbandian for the set in the next game -- the first set that the Argentine lost in five matches.

It soon became two. With Nalbandian serving at 4-5, Federer went ahead at 0-40. Nalbandian saved two break points before hitting a forehand into the net.

Nalbandian put some pressure on by taking the third set, but Federer broke Nalbandian's next service game to go up 2-0 in the fourth. He rode the advantage to finish off the match with his 20th ace and a serve that Nalbandian hit long.

Ferrero was at his best in the key points in outlasting Arazi, even though he was getting tired, his injured groin muscles were aching and Arazi had him sprinting all over the court.

Arazi, ranked 51st, earlier knocked off 25th-seeded Albert Costa and No. 10 Mark Philippoussis. But he came out cold against Ferrero, who won seven straight games spanning the first and second sets, losing only nine points.

In the second set, Arazi came back from 0-2 and fended off two set points with Ferrero serving at 5-4 to break and even the score at 5-5. He led the tiebreaker 6-3 before Ferrero ran off six straight points to take the set.

With Ferrero looking increasingly weary and not moving as well, Arazi broke him for a 4-3 lead in the third set and had a set point on Ferrero's next serve. Ferrero won the game, then broke Arazi to tie the set at 5-5.

"Today was a good test, and I think I passed, I need some rest today and tomorrow," Ferrero said. "I'm very motivated to get [the No. 1 ranking] again. I'm playing very good, very solid."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press