Nadal v Federer 1 Match Away; Womens Semis Today

Posted on June 8, 2006

Nadal, Federer One Match from Blockbuster Meeting

Claycourt dynamo Rafael Nadal improved his record claycourt streak to 58 matches Wednesday, advancing to the semifinals at the French Open when unseeded Serb opponent Novak Djokovic retired with a back injury trailing 4-6, 4-6.

"It's not nice to win like that," said Nadal, the defending champion and 12-0 career at Roland Garros. "I'm sorry for him. But this is good for me to head to the semifinals."

Nadal seemed content to grind down the Serb from the backcourt rather than playing an aggressive baseline game.

"My tactic is always to play my game," Nadal said. "It doesn't matter who's playing. First of all, you've got to say, 'I'm going to play well,' and then you adjust minor details according to how you're playing. Then you play your game."

In the semifinals Nadal will face claycourt surprise Ivan Ljubicic, the Croatian with the booming serve better known for his fastcourt play, who sees his opportunity to end the Spaniard's claycourt win streak.

"That streak has to finish one day, and I hope that's going to be Friday," Ljubicic said. "He cannot win forever -- everybody knows that."

The No. 4-seeded Ljubicic gained the semis by defeating unseeded Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

World No. 1 Roger Federer will face No. 3 seed David Nalbandian in the other semifinal Friday, making it the first time the top four seeds have reached the French semis since 1985.

Djokovic had treatment from the trainer for his back at 0-3 in the second set, then in the next game fell during a point and seemed to injure himself further. Even down two sets and with his retirement, the outspoken Serb said he was giving Nadal problems.

"I'm really unhappy that I finished this way," Djokovic said. "I realized today that I don't need to play anything special (to beat him). I don't need to play anything special. Everybody thinks, you know, Nadal. For sure he's the best on this surface, but he's not unbeatable. That's for sure. I realized that because I played today and I felt pretty good on the court. I broke him back like two times in the second set. I didn't -- I couldn't serve hundred percent. So I think if I will serve, you know, my serve is pretty good, I will use this serve and use the opportunities and I think I will win the second set, you know. And I think I could win today, you know. I have to say that even though that he's the best and everybody thinks that he's unbeatable, I say he's not unbeatable. He's beatable, you know. And especially in this match when he didn't know how to play against me, because he never played against me, so it was difficult position for him as well, you know. He was not feeling too comfortable in control of the match, that's for sure."

Ljubicic, yet to face a seeded player, jumped out to a 5-0 lead against Benneteau and never looked back, keeping the Frenchman at bay with some huge serving, and breaking out a big smile after match point.

"It was a smile of relief more than anything else," said Ljubicic, in his first Slam semifinal. "It would actually be a big disappointment not to make the semis with the players I played against."

A win over Nadal on clay would be an overwhelming victory for the Croatian, who has only beaten the Spaniard once in their three career meetings, all on his favorite hardcourts. Ljubicic entered Roland Garros with four first-round losses in his six appearances.

"He has an advantage because when he wanted to come back to deuce in a game, he was able to serve first serves at 210 [kph]," Benneteau said of Ljubicic. "But I didn't have this advantage. He was returning well. My serve wasn't bothering him."

On court Thursday for the men are the doubles semifinals, featuring the top-seeded Bryan brothers vs. the No. 15-seeded Romanian/German duo of Andrei Pavel and Alexander Waske, and the No. 2-seeded Jonas Bjorkman/Max "The Beast" Mirnyi vs. No. 13-seeded Czechs Lukas Dlouhy and Pavel Vizner.

French Open 2006 Womens Semifinals Preview

By Richard Vach, Senior Writer

Their last eight confrontations have been in tournament finals, so excuse Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters if they inadvertently stick around for the trophy presentation Thursday after their semifinal meeting at the French Open.

Seeded No. 2 and No. 5 respectively, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne would likely be the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds during Roland Garros in 2006 if not hampered by various injuries over the last 12 months. Clijsters herself returned just last year from a wrist injury that was thought to be potentially career ending.

Their sweet and semi-sour personalities (can you match the adjective with the player?) have had the Belgians at odds over the years, but after their Fed Cup pairing earlier this year, Henin-Hardenne says the two are fast friends again -- so much so that they will probably meet for lunch before the tournament ends, photographers be at the ready.

While neither has dropped a set en route to the semis, the nod goes to Henin-Hardenne who has won four of their five career meetings on clay, even while trailing Clijsters 9-10 in their overall meetings.

Henin-Hardenne usually manages to hit heavy and play deep against Clijsters, keeping her on her heels and not letting her step into her crunching forehand, but watch out if H-H starts the match hitting short, as evidenced by the flurry of winners Clijsters unleashed on Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals.

The defending champion Henin-Hardenne admits that while she is the favorite on paper, Clijsters has repeatedly shown over the years her ability to rise to the occasion in their match-ups, and in her opinion the betting odds will be 50/50. H-H is also still dealing with the stomach issue that caused her to retire during the Australian Open final.

"Kim will no doubt say that I'm the favorite on paper," H-H said with a chuckle. "She says that clay doesn't suit her, but it hasn't stopped her getting to the final here twice, and she's through to the semis this year."

Clijsters will also overtake Amelie Mauresmo for the No. 1 spot on the WTA Tour Rankings with a win over Henin-Hardenne.

Two surprise players make up the second semifinal in gangly 17-year-old Czech Nicole Vaidisova, and the solidly-built former US Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Vaidisova, of the Maria Sharpova ball-bashing school, had henceforth shown little skill on the red dirt, this year weathering a horrific slump of events before unexpectedly emerging with the claycourt title at Strasbourg.

The Czech teen earned her first Slam semifinal appearance after two valiant fight-backs, coming from a set down to defeat current No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo and former No. 1 Venus Williams.

"You're not just going to give it up, say, 'Maybe I'll try next time,'" Vaidisova said of her will to come from behind. "You just give it your all, know you've done a hundred percent...I definitely tried to do that, just tried to be positive because I've played matches when I was negative after I lost the first set, just lost the second as well."

The No. 10-ranked Kuznetsova, hardly perceived as a claycourt specialist, honed her dirt skills this year with a full schedule of Roland Garros lead-up events with an Amelia Island semifinal (l. to Schiavone, retiring with injury), a Charleston quarterfinal (l. to Groenefeld), a runner-up effort at Warsaw (l. to Clijsters), a Berlin quarterfinal (l. to Henin-Hardenne), and a semifinal at Rome (l. to Safina).

"I never thought about my result in this tournament," Kuznetsova said after turning the tables on Safina, coming back to lose only one game after trailing the Russian 1-5 in the quarterfinals. "I just wanted to go match by match because I was not doing as good tournaments before as I would love to do. But I was doing all right."

Last year Kuznetsova lost to the eventual champion Henin-Hardenne in three sets in the fourth round. This year she sees herself in the final, the favorite against the Czech teen who she beat in their only meeting last year at Wimbledon.

"I think I'm more claycourt player," Kuznetsova said. "I'm just going to do my best. If she can beat me, she should play well."

She may not even have to play well at that, with Kuznetsova's history of seizing up during big matches.

Whatever the outcomes, if a Belgian doesn't mistakenly look to raise the trophy after the semifinal, look for one to be holding the cup after the final.

Richard Vach is a senior writer for who can currently be seen on The Tennis Channel's "Tennis Insiders: Super Insiders" episodes, and was recently awarded "Best Hard News" story for 2005 by the United States Tennis Writers Association.

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