|Federer in action against Andreas Seppi during quarter-final of Qatar Open in Doha [AFP]
Defending champion Roger Federer extended his winning streak to 20 straight matches despite being stretched to three sets on Thursday in a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Andreas Seppi of Italy in the Qatar Open quarterfinals.
The third-ranked Federer set up a rematch of last year's semifinals against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The sixth-ranked Frenchman defeated Albert Ramos of Spain 6-2, 6-1.
Rafael Nadal also reached the semifinals, playing some of his best tennis this week in dispatching of Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6. The Spaniard faces Gael Monfils, who defeated Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-3, in his semifinal.
The 30-year-old Federer, who is 26-3 at the Qatar Open and is looking to win his fourth title in Doha, hasn't lost since falling to Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals.
"I thought I started well. I was able to play aggressive, not giving too much rhythm. He was obviously missing more shots due to that," Federer said.
"I thought he was a better player in that second set and deserved that set, and then the third set was close. I had my chances, he had his chances. But I was able to take mine."
Federer, who had never dropped a set against Seppi in seven wins, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set and appeared on the way to an easy victory. But he fell apart in the second set, going down 5-1 after a string of unforced errors coupled with improved returns from the 38th-ranked Italian. Federer came back to even the set at 5-5 but Seppi took the last two games, leveling the match when the 16-time Grand Slam champion hit his return long.
Federer fully recovered in the third, breaking Seppi to go up 2-1. He saved two break points to take control at 5-3 and closed out the match with a forehand winner into the corner.
Federer chalked up his struggles in the second set to the return game of Seppi and his own defensive lapses.
"I definitely think Seppi, he's a good return player," Federer said.
"When you give him too many second serves, he can take advantage of that... I had some chances to maybe not get broken a couple of times. So often I had the lead in some of the service games where I did get broken eventually, and
I hope I can sort of not make that happen so often.''
Nadal made to sweat
Facing his toughest test yet in the former eighth-ranked Youzhny, the second-ranked Nadal went on the attack from the beginning.
He stretched the Russian with his forehand but failed to convert several break points early on. He finally broke Youzhny in the fifth game to go up 3-2 and held on to win the first set. Nadal broke Youzhny twice in the second set to go up 4-1, before Youzhny earned his only break of the match to make it 4-3.
Nadal then struggled to serve out the match, having to save four break points before clinching the victory with a volley into an empty court.
Tsonga, who struggled to three-set wins in his first two matches, broke Ramos in the first game and was never seriously challenged. He broke Ramos a second time to go up 5-2, and then jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set, repeatedly pumping his fists when he hit winners and dancing as he closed out the match.
"It's (always) a pleasure and an honour to play against this guy"
Tsonga on Federer
"I was very aggressive at the very beginning with my play so I did well today,'' said Tsonga, who joked this week that he was normally a "diesel engine'' who starts slow.
Tsonga said he was most happy with his serving, winning 83 percent of the first serve points.
"It was good, because I had a good percentage, and with the wind I think it's a good weapon,'' he said.
"When the wind is across the court, I can slice the ball. This is my best serve. When I play a lefty guy it's easier
for me to put him out of the court. Then the court is open for me and it's easy."
Tsonga said he was looking forward to a rematch with Federer, whom he lost to last year in straight sets. Federer was 6-2 in 2011 against Tsonga, but lost to him in five sets at Wimbledon.
"It's (always) a pleasure and an honour to play against this guy,'' Tsonga said.
"When you beat him, you know you can do it and that's it. So of course when you are going on the court the next time, you are a bit more confident. But it's all the time difficult anyway to play against this guy because when he plays his best level he's better than every player.''