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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Tennis: Nadal and Federer edge closer to another re-match

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer each moved to within two wins of their first re-match since the sensational Wimbledon final six months ago, both hastening into the quarter-finals of the Qatar Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, the top-seeded Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champion, took only 61 minutes to win 6-1, 6-2 against Karol Beck, the former top 40 Slovakian, and looked as energetically aggressive as ever except for a brief few moments at the start of the second set.

Federer, whose total of 13 Grand Slam titles puts him just one from the all-time record, needed only a little longer, taking 79 minutes in an effective but not always fluent 6-3, 6-3 victory against Andreas Seppi, the world number 34 from Italy.

Nadal's looked marginally the more impressive effort, but Federer was required to play in steadily cooling night-time conditions in unusually low temperatures for this region.

Asked if he felt different about coming into a new season for the first time as world number one and with three big titles to his name, Nadal replied wisely.

"Everybody starts the year with zero," he said.

"But at the same time I have won five Grand Slams, and, I think, 11 Masters Series, and 31 titles altogether and one Olympic gold medal.

"I have all these titles and all these good results over a few years, and that has made me calmer."

Nadal was more upbeat about his performance against Beck, who is trying to fight his way back on to the main tour after dropping out of the top 100.

"It's good if you are winning by this score against a tough opponent: I am pleased that I am playing well and pleased to be in the quarter-finals," Nadal enthused.

"It's warmer today (Wednesday), which is better for the body and better for the tennis and better for everyone."

Talking about his narrow loss to Andy Murray in Sunday's exhibition final in Abu Dhabi, Nadal said that it had helped him.

"Abu Dhabi helped me. I lost a close match as in some moments I lost concentration because I had been outside competition for some time.

"You need more matches to get back into competition but at the same time that match helped me get back into the rhythm and to get good feelings."

Federer might have won a little more quickly had he consolidated his break for 4-2 in the first set, but then missed two points for 5-2 and allowed Seppi to break back.

He also saw his opponent reach break back point for 4-4 in the second set before holding on to that service game; Seppi then tenaciously saved three match points before Federer was able wrap it up at the fourth attempt.

"I hit five times as many balls in this match as in the last one, which is good for me at this stage," said Federer.

"I'm satisfied with my level at the moment.

"To a degree I know where my game is but as the tournament progresses you get tougher opponents and you tend only to play as well as your opponent."

Nadal now faces Gael Monfils, the brilliantly speedy Frenchman who looks capable of pushing into the top ten this year, while Federer must meet Philipp Kohlschreiber, the Switzerland-based top 30 German who had the best year of his career last year.

If both superstars survive, Federer could well have the tougher semi-final, for he should play Murray, who achieved early breaks in both sets against Philipp Petzschner to dominate the match in a 6-2, 6-4 win.

"I go into each match now maybe a bit more focused (than I used to), and when I get on top I'm able to stay on top of opponents for longer without really giving them a chance to get back into it," said Murray.

"Those things come with experience of playing at this level, and it's taken me a few years but I think I'm starting to get better at that."

Federer seemed very well aware that he might experience a tougher draw than Nadal.

"Definitely Murray has caught up, and now it's a matter of him keeping it up and staying healthy," he said generously.

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