Roger Federer, aiming to regain a title he last won four years ago, reached the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open with a performance which for the second successive day suggested he is starting the new season well rested and in fine shape.
The Grand Slam record-breaker won 6-2, 6-4 against Evgeny Korolev, a young and rising Russian on the verge of the world’s top 50 who hit ambitiously but looked capable of achieving more than he actually did.
Federer contained him well, moved excellently, prevented his inexperienced opponent from feeling comfortable, and from time to time had moments of sublime attacking, which helped maintain an intimidating aura.
“This was a more dangerous match than my first one because he is a big ball striker and plays aggressive on forehand and backhand,” Federer said.
“Conditions were difficult today, it was very slow out there and I had to be patient and grind it out, so I was happy with the way I adapted and with the way the match went,” he said.
Federer was helped by several moments when Korolev beat himself notably after he broke the great man’s serve to get back to 2-3, only to play a poor service game himself.
Then, unaccountably, Korolev failed to appeal against a line call on the opening point of the final game, when he was serving to save the match.
Hawkeye was showing as on the line a drive which had been called out, but the Russian missed his chance to get the decision overturned. By contrast, at 15-30 Federer appealed against another “out” call, on his own drive this time, and got it reversed, taking the score to 15-40 and giving him two match points.
Korolev fought back bravely and saved both of them but still lost that game and the match. Had he appealed, as Federer did, he should have reached 5-5 with all to play for.
Federer is seeded to play a final tomorrow against Rafael Nadal, who looked particularly pumped up after dismissing Potito Starace, a former top 30 player from Italy, by 6-2, 6-2. Asked if he were particularly keen to start this year well, after going the last eight months of last year without a title, Nadal replied: “It’s always important to start every season well.”
Meanwhile, Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis was too fresh and fast for Moroccan Younes El Aynaoui, winning 6-3, 6-1 against an opponent who the day before became the oldest player since Jimmy Connors in 1995 to win a singles match on the ATP World Tour.
Even though competing twice in two days proved too much for a 38-year-old body that had not competed on tour since 2008, El Aynaoui still had cause to remember fondly his one-sided loss.
The champion here in 2002 was presented with a special trophy on court to mark his last ever match on the tour.
Ernests Gulbis, the 21-year-old Latvian whom many thought might be pushing into the top 20 by now, beat Andreas Seppi, the smooth-stroking Italian, 6-4, 7-5.
There was also a win for Russian Nikolay Davydenko who beat Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4.
REUTERS, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
Israel’s Shahar Peer was the subject of protests for the third successive day at the WTA Tour’s Auckland Classic yesterday, though the 22-year-old still advanced to the semi-finals of the event.
Five people, amongst a group of about 20 protesting at Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and urging Peer to withdraw from the tournament, were arrested outside the Auckland venue, local media reported.
Peer was seemingly unfazed by the distractions and moved into the semi-finals with a 6-0, 3-6, 6-1 victory over Russia’s Maria Kirilenko.
Peer will meet third seed Yanina Wickmayer in the semi-finals today after the Belgian overpowered Kimiko Date Krumm 6-2, 6-2.
The Japanese former world No. 4 had upset fifth seed Virgine Razzano of France in the second round on Wednesday.
The Razzano victory was the first time the 39-year-old had beaten a top-20 player since launching her comeback in 2008, though she also dispatched former world No. 5 Anna Chakvetadze in the first round.
Top seeded Italian Flavia Pennetta also advanced to the semis after she produced a superbly accurate game, keeping Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova pinned deep behind the baseline to complete an easy 6-1, 6-2 victory.
Pennetta will meet compatriot Francesca Schiavone in the semis after the fourth seeded Schiavone thrashed Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 6-2, 6-3.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is buying the Forum for US$400 million, ending the billionaire’s legal fight with Madison Square Garden Co (MSG) and clearing the way to build a new arena for his NBA team down the street in Inglewood, California. Ballmer on Tuesday announced his cash purchase of the venerated arena. Ballmer, a former Microsoft executive, and Clippers vice chairman Dennis Wong are making the transaction through CAPSS LLC, a newly formed entity that would continue to operate the Forum as a live music venue. “This is an unprecedented time, but we believe in our collective future,” Ballmer said.
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