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Federer reaches 22nd consecutive Grand Slam semi

SUDDENLY, surprisingly, Roger Federer found himself in a bit of a jam against Robin Soderling in the US Open quarterfinals last night.

Federer breezed to a two-set lead, then was within two points of victory in the third, when Soderling made things interesting by coming back to take that tiebreaker. Then Soderling moved within a point of tying the match when he took the lead in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

That's when Federer restored order, reeling off the last three points to beat the 12th-seeded Soderling 6-0, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (6) and reach a 22nd consecutive Grand Slam semifinal.

"It was so close towards the end. It's a great relief to come through, because Robin started playing better and better as the match went on," Federer said. "I knew he'd be tough, but the beginning was way too easy. He found his way into the match."

Federer has won all 12 matches against Soderling, including victories over the Swede in the French Open final and Wimbledon's fourth round this year.

"For sure, I feel like I have a chance every time I play against him, even though it's pretty small," Soderling said. "He always plays well, it feels like."

With Soderling ahead 6-5 in the last tiebreaker, Federer hit a service winner to pull even. Soderling then missed a backhand wide to give Federer a match point, and pushed a forehand wide to end the match.

"It's tough to play worse than I did in the first two sets. It could only get better," Soderling said. "I think I was putting a lot of pressure on him from the start of the third set."

Federer has won 39 consecutive matches at the American Grand Slam tournament, where he is trying to become the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win six titles in a row.

Federer served spectacularly well Wednesday, saving all five break points he faced. He also delivered far more aces than the big-serving Soderling, 28-11.

"For me, it's very tough to read his serve, and I was very impressed about the way he served during the circumstances," Soderling said. "It was very, very windy."

In Saturday's semifinals, Federer will play No. 4 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who eliminated No. 10 Fernando Verdasco of Spain 7-6 (2), 1-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Like Soderling, Djokovic is a familiar foe. Federer holds an 8-4 head-to-head advantage over Djokovic, which includes wins in the 2007 final and 2008 semifinals at Flushing Meadows.

"I don't think you can ever get your game to perfection, you know. Only if you're Federer," Djokovic said.

Federer last failed to reach the semifinals at a major tournament when he lost in the third round of the 2004 French Open. No other man ever had a Grand Slam semifinal streak longer than 10.

"Not what I aimed for, that's for sure," Federer said of his record semifinal streak at major tournaments. "Probably one of the greatest records for me, personally, in my career. Glad it keeps going."


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