DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Roger Federer is troubled
with his strokes, finding flaws in a game some consider peerless.
Now he hopes a tougher opponent will raise the level of his tennis.
The world's No. 1 player defeated Serbian teenager Novak
Djokovic 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-3 Thursday to reach the Dubai Open
semifinals. Federer's big rival, Rafael Nadal, did not fare as
well, losing to Russia's Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 (5), 6-3.
This was the second time in three matches Federer dropped a set.
Not a cause for alarm in most players. Then again, this is Federer.
"I definitely think my forehand is not working like the way it
usually works," he said. "Some half-court balls, I usually put
them away in my sleep. But I can't quite do that here for some
reason, so that's a bit of a worry."
Federer also dropped a set to Denmark's Kristian Pless in the
first round Monday. On that day he broke Jimmy Connors' record with
his 161st consecutive week atop the ATP rankings.
On Thursday, the Swiss star committed 52 unforced errors and
needed more than two hours to advance to a semifinal against
Germany's Tommy Haas. Federer appeared to have won in straight
sets, but Djokovic won a line challenge on match point and
position," Federer said. "I can see the headlines already, kind
of going like 'Oh God, he missed match point with the Hawk-Eye,'
and the whole thing. This wasn't exactly our best match, but I
think it was more of a battle on the day, kind of who manages to
play better. It was me in the end, so I am happy about that."
Federer has beaten the ninth-ranked Haas in seven of their nine
meetings. Haas, seeded fifth and a winner last week in Memphis,
Tenn., extended his winning streak to 11 matches as he overwhelmed
Belgium's Olivier Rochus 6-0, 6-2. Robin Soderling held off 2002
champion Fabrice Santoro to win 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-0.
"As the opponents get tougher, my game also rises to the
occasion," Federer said. "That's what I expect again against
Haas. I have played him a few times in my career. The guy, when he
is playing well, he can play really, really well. He has definitely
been on a roll lately and I am really happy to see him back playing
after his two years of injuries."
Youzhny, in beating the second-seeded Nadal, capitalized on an
apparent incorrect call by the Hawk-Eye electronic line-judging
system. He advanced to the semifinals along with Haas and
reverse an out call and take the first-set tiebreak. The Russian
then broke Nadal to open the second.
"I lost the first set in the last point," Nadal said. "I saw
and even the referee saw, the ball was outside. There was a mark on
the court. The ball was definitely out, but when he challenged, it
was in. So it was really unbelievable."
Even Youzhny admitted he was shocked that his challenge was
upheld by Hawk-Eye.
"[It] looked like it was a little bit out. I saw the mark was a
little out, but it was such an important point, I decided to call
for the Hawk-Eye. Even I was shocked it was called in, because, to
be honest, I thought it was out."
Haas lost only two points on his serve in the first set and
needed just 49 minutes to eliminate Rochus, who upset third-seed
Nikolay Davydenko in the second round.