<
>

Federer downs Blake in straight sets, to meet Djokovic in semifinals

1/23/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer has lots of reasons to
like James Blake.

The 12th-ranked American has a reputation as a nice guy away
from the court and a good sportsman on it. More importantly for
Federer, Blake always puts up a good fight against the Swiss star --
then loses.

Top-ranked Federer ran his record against Blake to 8-0 and
advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4
victory Wednesday.

Federer is seeking to win here for the third straight year and
pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
He's also one step away from his 11th consecutive Grand Slam final
and has won 19 matches in a row at Melbourne Park.

"It's great to be on top of the game for so long and be
compared to the greats like Rod Laver and Sampras,'' Federer said.

He's not too worried about younger players stealing a little of
the spotlight, either.

"I'm looking at history, looking at my own game,'' Federer
said.

He next faces No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who beat No. 5 David Ferrer
6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to join two Serbian women in the semifinals. Ana
Ivanovic ousted Venus Williams 7-6 (3), 6-4 on Wednesday, while
Jelena Jankovic beat Serena Williams a day earlier.

The same three players reached the French Open semifinals last
year on clay, proving they can win anywhere. Djokovic also made the
Wimbledon semifinals and was runner-up to Federer at the U.S. Open.

U.S. flags were outnumbered by Swiss ones on a perfect night for
tennis, and Federer had to be nearly perfect to beat Blake, who
used his powerful forehand to keep the Swiss star from taking
control of points as much he prefers.

"Playing against James, it's always great fun,'' said Federer,
dressed in all-black again for a night match. "He's dangerous when
he's even behind in the game. He made some incredible shots.''

Blake's feelings about Federer were similar -- to a point.

"He seems like one of the guys in the locker room,'' Blake
said. "Then you go out there, he beats you. You come back in the
locker room and he's one of the guys.''

This was high-quality tennis, and the fans in packed Rod Laver
Arena were on the edge of their seats as neither player gave an
inch.

With a tiebreaker looming in the first set, Federer was at his
best as usual under pressure, breaking Blake as he served at 5-6.

Blake saved two set points while serving at 4-5 in the second
set and three more after falling behind 6-2 in the tiebreaker. But
there are only so many escapes possible against Federer, who
finally cashed his sixth set point.

Federer was cruising at 5-1 in the third set when Blake,
refusing to yield, ran off three straight games. Federer finally
held to finish it off.

"I really went in thinking I had a good chance to win,'' Blake
said. "I thought I played pretty well. But he came up with some of
his best at the right times, and that was the difference.''

Earlier Wednesday, Djokovic missed four match points and was
broken when serving for victory but recovered to set up a
semifinal against Federer.

Ferrer had won three of their previous five meetings but a
near flawless Djokovic was in a different class early on,
racing through the first two sets and taking a 5-3 lead in the
third.

As the nerves set in, however, Ferrer saved four match
points in the ninth game and broke back for 5-5 but Djokovic
broke again and saved a break point before serving out for
victory to reach his fourth Grand Slam semifinal in a row.

Toward the end, Djokovic yelled at the crowd for shouting while he tried to serve.

"There's no excuse for that. I was very nervous and was
behaving very badly, I'm very sorry about that," he later said.
"Sometimes it's hard to control our emotions on the court. I'm
very happy to get through."

Djokovic completes a set of Grand Slam semifinals appearances,
his best performance remaining his run to the U.S. Open final.


With a group of teenage girls squealing when he won big points,
Djokovic was at his best, pounding his big serve and mixing up his
baseline game.

Ferrer had only four winners to 11 unforced errors in the
23-minute first set as Djokovic won 28 points to 11.

About the only distraction came early in the first set when it
appeared that a wailing baby disrupted Djokovic's concentration
during a point. "Please give our crying friend a bottle," Chair
umpire Steve Ullrich announced.

Ferrer picked up his game in the second set and had double break
point as Djokovic served at 2-2. But the Serbian ripped three aces
and another serve that never came back to finish off the threat,
then broke in the next game and held serve the rest of the set.

Ferrer fended off four match points while serving at 3-5 in a
game that went to deuce seven times, then finally converted a break
point for the first time in eight attempts to get back on serve in
the third.

Djokovic quickly quashed any thoughts of a comeback, breaking
Ferrer to go ahead 6-5. After showing some nerves to fall behind at
30-40, he finished with an ace, an overhead winner and a backhand
pass than landed on the baseline.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.