Federer cruises to semi-final

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The Independent Online

Having lost his serve in the fifth game of the second set, after Roger Federer ended a splendid rally by sprinting across the court and hitting a sumptuous backhand pass, Andrei Pavel picked up the ball and belted it out of the stadium over a "Fly Emirates" sign.

The fact that the Romanian had drawn the eyes of spectators to the local airline advertisement did not spare him from receiving a warning for ball abuse. Fair enough, although everyone in the crowd last night could empathise with Pavel's immense frustration at being picked apart by the world No 1 in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Open.

Federer, the defending champion, won 6-3, 6-3, after 68 minutes, and said he was looking forward to playing better. "My serve still isn't where I want it to be," he said, "and I miss a few shots. It's just a feeling for the ball. In the early rounds my play was passive. I wasn't chasing the lines. Now I feel I can."

After complimenting Federer on being, in his opinion, the best player since Bjorn Borg, an experienced observer criticised the 22-year-old Swiss for being unlike Borg by allowing opponents to come into the match, as if he was almost beating himself.

The Wimbledon and Australian Open champion considered the point and replied: "They're maybe attacking more than they would because they know if they don't attack, I will attack them. So they come in on balls which are not great. That's why I have to hit so many passing shots."

He added that Pavel, ranked just outside the top 50, has an all-round game and is a tough opponent. The 30-year-old Romanian was not sharp enough on this occasion to win more than two points off Federer's serve in any game, and Pavel's own serve was under threat more often than not.

Federer broke to love for 4-2 in the first set, and Pavel had to save two set points on his serve at 5-2 before Federer served out to love on his third set point after 33 minutes. Federer broke for 4-2 in the second set, and Pavel was again unable to hold serve in the final game.

The unseeded Jarkko Nieminen, of Finland, stands between Federer and a second appearance in the final. Nieminen defeated the only other seed, the Dutch No 8 seed Sjeng Schalken, 6-3, 6-3.

When Mikhail Youzhny won the opening set, 6-2, against the Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal in the first of yesterday's quarter-finals, and then lost 16 consecutive points in conceding the second set, 1-6, it seemed the Russian may have bitten off more than he could chew.

This was not far from being the case. Youzhny apparently had been queasy for three days after visiting a Japanese restaurant last weekend. Playing yesterday in a temperature of 30C, with 95 per cent humidity, added to Youzhny's light-headedness.

"I felt completely dead in the second set," Youzhny said after pulling himself together and winning 6-2, 1-6, 6-1, stringing together 13 points in a row in the third set of the topsy-turvy contest.

Youzhny said he "woke up" after almost losing his serve in the third game of the final set. He resolved the situation with two successive aces, the second one off a second serve.

He was at his most alert in the next game, breaking Nadal to love, hitting a deep forehand drive into the corner after one of the lengthy rallies that characterised the match.

"After that I started to play better and Rafael made more mistakes," Youzhny said. "He's a good player, but he's still young. In junior tennis, many player are very good, but when you play on the Tour you can't afford to make three mistakes in a row."

In the semi-finals, Youzhny will play another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez, who beat Ivan Ljubicic, of Croatia, 6-4, 7-6.