Federer developing clay-court skills for streetfighter Nadal

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The Independent Online

While many might have predicted that victories over Alberto Martin (world No 66) and Benjamin Balleret (351) would be delivered by Federer express, most would have expected the Swiss to run into occasional traffic against Ferrer. The Spaniard, a clay-court specialist, reached the semi-finals of the last Masters series tournament in Miami, although his Florida fun ended when he took only five games off Federer. If the world No 15 had drawn some encouragement from the fact Federer had never got beyond the quarter-finals in five visits here, that must have all but vanished when he was serving at 0-40 and 5-0 down, having won only eight points.

Five points in a row gave the Spaniard his first game, but Federer served out for the set, took the next four games and would have won in less than an hour but for a brief interlude when Ferrer won three games in succession. "Maybe I was playing so well that it was hard to keep it up," Federer said.

Clay is the surface that gives Federer the most problems and he is delighted with his early form as he embarks on a campaign which he hopes will end with victory in the French Open, the only Grand Slam crown that has eluded him.

The Swiss has been sliding across the terre battue here with all the assurance of a Spanish or an Argentinian clay-courter, which is just as well as he will meet Rafael Nadal or Gaston Gaudio in tomorrow's final, if he can overcome Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, who yesterday defeated Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 5.

A Federer-Nadal confrontation would be an enthralling prospect. Federer's only defeat in 33 matches this year came in Dubai last month at the hands of the Spanish teenager, who in turn has lost just one of his four meetings with the world No 1, a five-set thriller in Miami last year.

Nadal's 6-2, 6-1 victory over Guillermo Coria, who has played in the last three Monte Carlo finals, suggested that he is climbing towards the peaks he scaled in dominating last year's clay-court season. Coria lived with Nadal for the first four games but by the time the Spaniard was a set and 1-0 up the contest was heading in only one direction.

At that stage a dizzy Coria called for the doctor, who took his blood pressure. Having come through long matches in the previous two rounds, the Argentinian had woken up feeling tired and nauseous, not the ideal state in which to confront a muscular 19-year-old who hits every forehand as though he is conducting a personal vendetta against the ball manufacturers. The doctor gave Coria the all-clear to continue, but Nadal was in no mood to show any mercy to his opponent.

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