Federer to battle Ljubicic in Key Biscayne final

Even with one brief lapse, Roger Federer needed only 59 minutes to beat David Ferrer 6-1, 6-4 and reach the Nasdaq-100 Open final on Friday.

Defending champion Federer fell behind 3-0 in the second set but rallied to improve his match record to 27-1 this year. His opponent on Sunday will be sixth-seeded Ivan Ljubicic, a Croat who advanced to his first final in the United States by beating number three 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 [of] times I was very close. I really just hope to be at least close on Sunday.”

The women’s final on Saturday will be an all-Russian match-up between fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova and number 12 Svetlana Kuznetsova, each bidding for her first Key Biscayne title.

The top-seeded Federer took the opening set against 11th-seeded Ferrer in 18 minutes. After the Spaniard went ahead in the second set, Federer rallied with his typical vast array of winners, including a cross-court backhand that almost sent Ferrer spinning into the concrete like a corkscrew in vain pursuit.

Ferrer, who beat 2004 champion Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, hit only 10 winners to Federer’s 25.

Federer has reached the final in his past 11 tournaments, the longest such streak since John McEnroe in 1984. He 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 ATP Masters Series title at age 27, he lost only five points on his serve.

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

Ljubicic hit 12 aces without a double-fault and faced no break points. The 1,93m Croat won 24 of 25 points with his first serve, making him 60-for-62 in the past two rounds. He closed with a 226kph 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 of 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.

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, be careful with your neck,’” Ljubicic said. “He said, ‘Sleep on the same pillow and don’t open the windows.’”—Sapa-AP

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