Sun, Nov 19, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Nadal rallies to book a showdown with Federer


Rafael Nadal came from a set down against Russia's Nikolay Davydenko on Friday to set up a showpiece Masters Cup semi-final with rival Roger Federer.

The muscular world No. 2 overcame a slow start and a minor knee problem to break Davydenko in the second and third sets, winning 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 43 minutes.

Nadal became the last player to qualify for the last four with James Blake already assured of top spot in the Gold Group.

Blake will meet defending champion David Nalbandian in the semi-finals. The bottom seed and surprise package here was beaten by the already eliminated Tommy Robredo 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in Friday's dead rubber.

Nadal hailed one of his "best wins of the year" after reaching his first semi since losing the Wimbledon final to Federer.

But he admitted he faced a tough assignment against the world No. 1 yesterday, despite beating him four times earlier in the year.

"For me he's playing at his best level in the second half of the year. He's playing unbelievable, he's a special player and it's going to be very difficult to win against him," Nadal said.

"But I will try like always. I will give 100 percent and we'll see because other times I've played him he's been the favorite too."

In his first meeting with Davydenko, Nadal struggled with his serve and found his baseline game neutralized by the Russian in a first set that clocked in at 66 minutes. A nervy double fault at 5-6 cost him the set.

The Spaniard hit back immediately, converting his second break point of the next game and leveling the match when Davydenko sent a forehand wide on set point.

Nadal appeared in trouble after the second game of the decider when he called the personal trainer for attention to a long-standing problem in his left knee.

But he rallied to conjure three break points at 3-3, converting the third when he forced Davydenko wide and the Russian netted with a forehand.

He faced his first break point of the set when serving for the match but thundered two service winners before winning when Davydenko fired wide.

But the Russian did not give Nadal much chance of winning his sixth title this year.

"I think Federer can win the Masters. I don't think Nadal will win," Davydenko said.

The Spaniard dominated early in the season, beating Federer in four finals on the way to five titles including his second consecutive French Open crown.

But his form slumped after the Wimbledon final and subsequently he did not make it past the quarter-finals in any of his six regular-season events.

Nadal is making his Masters Cup debut this year after missing last year's tournament with a foot injury.

In the later match, Robredo broke twice in the first set and recovered from Blake's early break in the second to post a face-saving win after his defeats to Davydenko and Nadal.

Blake said he would try to put the result out of his mind ahead of Saturday's semi-final with Nalbandian.

"I tried. Fought as hard as I could. Didn't go my way," he said. "Tomorrow, hopefully the breaks will go my way. I'll maybe be a little more rested. I don't know. We'll see."

The world's top eight players compete in the US$4.45 million event, which is in a round-robin format ahead of the semi-finals and final yesterday and today.

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