Federer to meet Ljubicic in final

0

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – An hour of court time at Crandon Park was more than enough Friday night for Roger Federer.

Even with a brief lapse, the top-seeded Federer needed only 59 minutes to reach the final at the Nasdaq-100 Open, beating David Ferrer 6-1, 6-4.

“I didn’t give him much chance,” Federer said. “I’m playing so well this week, it was tough for him from the start.”

The result was hardly a surprise: Federer has advanced to the final in his past 11 tournaments, the longest such men’s streak since John McEnroe made 12 consecutive finals in 1984.

Federer will bid for his second successive Key Biscayne title Sunday against No. 6 seed Ivan Ljubicic, a Croat who advanced to his first final in the United States by beating No. 3 David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-2.

Federer has won his past six meetings against Ljubicic, although three times they split sets. Overall Federer leads 9-3.

“Every time when I have to play against him, it’s like, OK, maybe this is the one,”‘ Ljubicic said. “But it’s never happening. A couple times I was very close. I really just hope to be at least close on Sunday.”

Ljubicic is the first Croat to reach the men’s final since Goran Ivanisevic in 1996. Ivanisevic woke up with a stiff neck the morning of his final and was forced to retire against Andre Agassi.

“He told me yesterday, If you win (in the semifinals), be careful with your neck,”‘ Ljubicic said. “He said, Sleep on the same pillow and don’t open the windows.”‘

The women’s final Saturday will be an all-Russian matchup between No. 4 seed Maria Sharapova and No. 12 Svetlana Kuznetsova, each bidding for her first Key Biscayne title.

The 11th-seeded Ferrer was coming off a win over Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, but Federer quickly cooled him off, taking the opening set in 18 minutes.

A flurry of errors, including two sloppy volleys, then put Federer in a 3-0 hole to start the second set.

The lapse didn’t last long.

“I played very aggressive in the beginning, but obviously it’s not so easy to do that on a consistent basis,” Federer said. “Once I was down 3-love, I chose to play with a lower risk and sort of make him play a few shots.”

Federer rallied to win the next five games with a typically vast array of winners, including a crosscourt backhand that almost sent Ferrer spinning into the concrete like a corkscrew in pursuit.

“That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world,” Ferrer said. Federer improved to 27-1 this year and extended his record winning streak in the ATP Masters Series to 23 matches.

Ljubicic was nearly as dominant in his semifinal win. Bidding for his first Masters Series title at age 27, he lost only five points on his serve.

“Almost perfect,” Nalbandian said. “When he play like this, it’s very tough.”

Ljubicic hit 12 aces without a double-fault and faced no break points. The 6-foot-4 Croat won 24 of 25 points with his first serve, making him 60-for-62 in the past two rounds. He closed with a 141 mph ace, his fastest serve of the day.

“Everything went my way,” Ljubicic said. “I’m serving fantastic, I’m moving well, I’m seeing the ball well.”

Nalbandian played nearly flawless tennis in his quarterfinal victory over Mario Ancic, but he struggled from the start against Ljubicic.

The Argentine won less than half his service points and faced 17 break points. When Nalbandian lost serve to fall behind 5-1 in the opening set, he whacked a ball into the stands in frustration, but the outburst failed to improve his play.

“He played better than me – everything perfect,” Nalbandian said.

“I was serving really good, but you can’t beat Nalbandian only with the serve,” Ljubicic said. “He was struggling, but I played a good match.”

Ljubicic improved to 25-3 this year and ranks second in victories to Federer. If he wins the title, he’ll climb to fourth in the rankings, ahead of Roddick.

AP-ES-03-31-06 2118EST

Advertisement
SHARE