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Federer dominates Ferrero in semifinal

1/30/2004

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer reached the Australian
Open final Friday, turning his showdown with Juan Carlos Ferrero
for the top ranking into a rout.

Federer, the Wimbledon champion, won 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 to set up a
title match with Marat Safin, who has beaten Andy Roddick and
defending champion Andre Agassi in his last two matches.

Federer supplanted Roddick at No. 1 and is the 23rd man to hold
the top ranking.

"I love it," the second-seeded Swiss said.

Federer took control of the semifinal after fending off four
break points while serving at 3-3 in the first set, rallying from
0-40. From 4-4, Federer won five straight games and eight of nine,
denying the third-seeded Spaniard a chance to break again.

Federer's calm exterior masked a case of the jitters.

"Maybe I have a poker face, but I get really nervous," he
said.

He was cheered by fans in T-shirts depicting the Swiss flag.

"They're very neutral when it comes to other things," Federer
said. "But when it comes to sports, they go wild."

Ferrero, the French Open champion, was facing a seeded player
for the first time in six matches, benefiting from upsets in his
quarter of the draw. He looked increasingly downcast as Federer
ripped winners from the baseline and net, keeping him off-balance
with spins and pinpoint placements.

The Spaniard said his strained groin limited his movement.

"I started to feel the pain in my legs," said Ferrero, who
also has complained of back and arm problems the last two weeks.
"It was a disaster."

He said he will rest and skip Spain's Davis Cup matches in the
Czech Republic next week. He felt the short break after the Masters
Cup in November and the Davis Cup final in Melbourne last month may
have contributed to his problems.

Federer, who had 11 aces, won when Ferrero hit a service return
long. Federer then turned to his friends in the players' box.

"I just really wanted to enjoy that moment," he said.

Federer will be seeking his second Grand Slam when he faces
Safin on Sunday.

"Marat is a nice guy and we've always had great matches. It's
good to see him back," Federer said. "We're all happy but we're
all scared at the same time."

Safin, once ranked No. 1, was unseeded and ranked 86th after an
injury-plagued 2003. The Russian could rise to 18th by beating
Federer. Roddick will fall to third and Agassi will drop one spot
to fifth.

Federer missed a chance at the top spot last August when he lost
a semifinal to Roddick at Montreal.

"I was basically shaking all over my body because I couldn't
believe the chance I had," Federer said, recalling when he served
for the match against Roddick, only to be broken and lose in a
tiebreaker. "It was the defeat that hurt me the most last year.
Today I was much more relaxed."

He also missed a chance at No. 1 at the Masters Cup in Houston
in November. He is the first Swiss man to claim the top ranking;
Martina Hingis was the No. 1 woman.

The top ranking is on the line in the women's all-Belgian final
between No. 1-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne, the reigning
French and U.S. Open champ, and Kim Clijsters (ESPN, Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET).

They have faced each other 17 times on tour, including eight
matches in 2003, with Clijsters holding an overall 9-8 edge. But
Henin-Hardenne leads 2-0 in Grand Slam finals.

Neither has lost a set in six matches. Clijsters, seeking her
first title in a major, has a sprained ankle. She is the fiancee of
Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and will be the crowd favorite.

"I've come to so many Davis Cup matches here, and now to be on
court, and have the support of the crowd, it's very special,"
Clijsters said. "I've made the final at the French and U.S. Open,
but coming here means a lot more to me."

Top-seeded Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez won their
fifth Grand Slam women's doubles title Friday, the first
championship to be decided. They defeated the fourth-seeded
Russians Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Likhovtseva 6-4, 6-3.

It was the eighth straight Grand Slam doubles final for Ruano
Pascual of Spain and Suarez of Argentina. Their serve was broken
only once, while serving for the match at 5-2.

"Our coordination is really good," Suarez said. "I think we
have a really good feeling between us."

Martina Navratilova, 47, took another step toward her 10th Grand
Slam mixed doubles title. She and India's Leander Paes, the
defending champions, beat Jonathan Erlich of Israel and Liezel
Huber of South Africa 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals.