Nalbandian is leaner and hungrier for Federer rematch

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The Independent Online

The Orange Bowl in Miami is where Jamie Delgado briefly raised British hopes by winning an Under-14 title. It is also the only place in the world where Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, has defeated David Nalbandian.

Though Nalbandian is little more than an asterisk in the record books as the runner-up to Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2002, the Argentinian has beaten Federer four times since they turned professional. He also vanquished the Swiss in the final of the United States junior singles event here in 1998. When next they duel in the fourth round of the men's singles, Federer, the second seed, will find that Nalbandian, the 13th seed, is even leaner and hungrier than when he won their previous matches this year, in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January and the second round of the Cincinnati Masters last month.

He can take Mark Philippoussis's word for that. The runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon in July lost to Nalbandian in a battle of the bridesmaids in the third round here on Sunday night, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. Nalbandian was unshaken by Philippoussis' 34 aces among 66 winners, because the Australian was kind enough to donate 74 unforced errors.

Nalbandian, whose deep, consistent strokes frustrated Philippoussis, will have noted that Federer was profligate with his break points against James Blake on the way to a 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 third-round win against the American. Federer converted only one of 20 opportunities in the second set, three of 23 in total.

Sports coaches lean towards the philosophy that the time to worry is when chances are not being created. But Federer knows he cannot afford to be generous to Nalbandian, whose returns were emphatic on the occasions he was given a glimpse of Philippoussis' serve.

It would be insulting to the 35th-ranked Blake to imply that the New Yorker stood by while Federer made and missed the chances. Their match in Arthur Ashe Stadium was anything but a one-man show. Tenacity complements Blake's talent, as was evidenced in his response after double-faulting twice to be broken for 2-3 in the second set after fighting off eight break points two games earlier.

Although his head dropped, Blake recovered his spirits and denied Federer six break points for 2-5, another on set point at 4-5, and three more to hold for 6-5. Blake's resistance wavered in the tie-break, which Federer won, 7-4.

Federer said he felt in control in the second set, but agreed it was remiss to allow Blake to get into the ryhthm of returning his serve on so many break points. Blake had mixed emotions. "Being broken three times in three sets by someone playing that well is not too bad," he said, "but I'm getting tired of coming to the US Open, playing great tennis, and being known more for my losses than my wins."

The top eight men's seeds survived to the second week of a Grand Slam championship for the first time for 21 years, and everything seems set fair except the weather forecast.

In the women's singles, Kim Clijsters, the Belgian world No 1, has an opportunity to atone for her defeat by Amélie Mauresmo, of France, in the fourth round last year when they meet in the quarter-finals. "I feel better this year than I did last year," Clijsters said.

Both players advanced to the last eight without dropping a set. On Sunday evening, Clijsters defeated the American Meghann Shaughnessy, 6-2, 6-4, and Mauresmo, the fifth seed, was too strong for Tamarine Tanasugarn, beating the Thai for the loss of only four games.