Nadal, Federer to play in BNP Paribas Open semis

Azarenka to clash with Sharapova

Rafael Nadal outlasted David Nalbandian 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in the BNP Paribas Open on Friday to set up a semifinal showdown against rival Roger Federer, a rematch of their Australian Open semifinal.

Federer had an easier time in his quarterfinal, beating Juan Martin del Potro 6-3, 6-2 in just more than an hour for his fourth victory over the Argentine this year.

Nadal, ranked second in the world, handed third-ranked Federer one of his two losses since last year's U.S. Open when he beat the Swiss star in the Australian Open in January.

“I play always against Roger means a little bit more than against the rest of the opponents because I am playing probably against the best of the history,'' Nadal said, “so that's why it makes the match a little bit more special than the rest.''

In the women's draw, top-ranked Victoria Azarenka defeated Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-3 to reach the final of her sixth consecutive tournament. It was her 22nd straight victory to start the season, trailing only Martina Hingis' 37-0 start in 1997.

The second set was littered with service breaks, with Azarenka breaking four times and Kerber twice.

“It's a little bit difficult with the wind, especially from one side,'' Azarenka said. “She was really playing, putting a lot of pressure, and it was difficult to control the ball a little bit. Overall, I played pretty good on the return.''

Second-ranked Maria Sharapova advanced to the final when Ana Ivanovic retired with a left hip injury after losing the first set 6-4 and taking a 1-0 lead in the second.

Ivanovic left the court with a trainer while trailing 5-4 in the first set. After returning, she held serve to open the second set, then quit.

“I hope it's nothing that's going to put me away from the court for too long so I can start straight back into it because I feel physically very good,'' Ivanovic said. ``I really felt like I have been playing the best tennis probably played in a very, very long time.''

Azarenka beat Sharapova in this year's Aussie Open final. Their rematch Sunday will be the first final between the world's top two women since 2008.

“I would love to get my revenge,'' Sharapova said.

Nadal hadn't lost a set coming into the quarterfinals, but Nalbandian changed that right away. The Argentine was full of confidence, having earlier taken out Janko Tipsarevic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga _ his first time beating two top-10 players at the same event since 2008. Nalbandian won the final three games to take the opening set.

The Argentine led 4-3 and 5-4 in the second before Nadal reeled off the final three games to take the set, breaking Nalbandian in the 11th game on a double fault.

Nadal broke three times in the final set, including at love to go up 5-2. He had his first match point in the ninth game, but three consecutive errors helped Nalbandian close to 5-4.

Nadal faced two break points in the next game _ the first when he netted an easy smash after being run all over the court. He saved the second after Nalbandian missed a drop shot, then smashed his racket and yelled.

The Spaniard closed it out on his second match point when Nalbandian's backhand went wide.

Despite all his success, Nadal said he often isn't certain whether he can win matches and that only arrogant people don't doubt themselves. He has an 18-9 match record against Federer, but he still believes Saturday's semifinal could go either way.

“I believe that it's going to be a very difficult match for me, and I don't know if I'm going to be able to play my best,'' he said.

Federer improved to 37-2 with five titles since the U.S. Open. His other loss during that stretch came in Davis Cup against American John Isner, who advanced to the other semifinal against top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

The first game between Federer and Del Potro lasted 11 minutes. One of Federer's first serves was called good by a line judge, although both he and Del Potro believed it was out. Del Potro wanted to challenge, but the Hawk Eye line calling system temporarily broke down when an Internet connection was lost and data couldn't be provided.

As a result, the chair umpire supported the line judge's original call and Federer held on his way to building a 3-0 lead, including the set's only service break. Del Potro, who had two break points in the first game, argued to no avail.

“It was clear out and the machine doesn't work,'' he said. “But then the chair umpire told me he made a mistake ... could be a big chance to me to change the way of the match in that game. After that I was not concentrating and Roger was playing better, taking all his opportunities.''

Federer has been fighting a cold during the two-week tournament, but it didn't seem to affect him. He has seen the electronic system break down before.

“Crazy enough, when I played Rafa in Wimbledon, at 6-all in the fifth, Hawk Eye wasn't available anymore because of the light. That was great for us to know. It wasn't such an important match. Who cares?'' he said sarcastically.

Federer broke Del Potro twice in the second set to race out to a 5-1 lead. He fired 13 aces in the match, while Del Potro's first-serve percentage went from 76 percent in the first set to 50 percent in the second.

 

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