Nadal advances to semis against Federer

Rafael Nadal rallied to beat Nikolay Davydenko 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 yesterday and set up a Masters Cup semifinal against top-ranked Roger Federer.

James Blake topped the Gold Group despite losing 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 to Tommy Robredo later Friday in the last round robin match.

Blake opened the season-ending championship with wins over No. 2 Nadal and No. 3 Davydenko and had secured a semifinal against defending champion David Nalbandian before the Robredo match.

Nadal had more to play for against Davydenko, and took a while to get rolling.

Friday's win was "my best performance in a long time," Nadal said. "I won a very, very difficult match against the No. 3 in the world, and in his best performance. It was one of my best wins of the year."

He let Davydenko dictate from the baseline in the first set, who used fast, flat ground strokes to work him side to side. But Nadal varied his game in the second, using more slice and top spin to force Davydenko to run.

Two games after winning the second set, Nadal needed a medical time out to massage and tape his left knee. Nadal said it was a bone spur, and it did not appear to hinder him. He closed out the match when Davydenko's forehand went out.

Blake saved match points in the eighth and 10th games of the second set and came back from 5-2 down, but pulled a forehand wide after Robredo earned his third match point with a backhand winner.

Blake said it was a luxury knowing who and when he was playing in the semis before the semis.

"It's definitely a good feeling going into that last match knowing that no matter what happens, you already know your opponent, you know what time you're playing, and you know that it's not Roger Federer.

"Unfortunately, I didn't take that positive energy and turn it into a win, but tomorrow's another day."

Blake has never played Nalbandian, but said he's aware of the danger that the Argentine player presents.

Nalbandian lost to Federer and Ivan Ljubicic before beating Andy Roddick to qualify for the semis. He also lost to Federer in the round robin here last year before producing an upset over the Swiss star in the final.

Nadal is 6-2 overall against Federer, and the only player in the elite eight-man draw with a winning record against him.

Despite soreness in his left knee, Nadal said he's in good shape and confident he'll be fit for Saturday's semifinal against Federer.

Federer, aiming for his fourth consecutive Masters Cup final, won all three matches to finish atop the Red Group.

He is on a 27-match winning streak and will be more confident on hard courts against Nadal and with an extra day of rest.

Federer ended a five-match losing streak against the Spaniard when he beat Nadal in the Wimbledon final.

That was the last time Nadal reached the semis.

Despite winning five titles in six finals, he decided he needed to work on being more aggressive with his serve and forehand. He believes it's starting to pay off.

"To be in the semifinals is very important for me," Nadal said.

It was the first meeting between Nadal and Davydenko, who has won five titles in 31 events.

Davydenko faded in the deciding set against Nadal, as he did after leading Blake by a set and break before losing.

"I was fit, was feeling great," Davydenko said. "Then came some long rallies. That's when I was feeling a little bit tired and did some mistakes. That's when I started losing."

In doubles matches Friday, second-seeded Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi finished the Gold Group round-robin stage unbeaten with a 6-3, 7-6 (7) win over Fabrice Santoro and Nenad Zimonjic.

Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor also advanced 6-3, 6-3 over Poland pair Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski.

In the semifinals, Bjorkman-Mirnyi will face Martin Damm and Leander Paes, while Knowles and Nestor take on Red Group winner Paul Hanley and Kevin Ullyett.

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