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Federer sets up Djokovic clash

WORLD No. 2 Roger Federer fended off a feisty challenge from German qualifier Mischa Zverev at the Rome Masters yesterday to win 7-6 (3), 6-2 and set up a semifinal against defending champion Novak Djokovic.

Serbian Djokovic eased confidently into the last four with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Argentine fifth seed Juan Martin Del Potro.

Zverev, 21, served superbly, attacked the net well and showed character in the first set to save two break-and-set points in a game that was interrupted for a few minutes, apparently because a spectator was taken ill.

He was unable to trouble Federer on his serve, however, and the Swiss eventually took the first set in a tiebreak with a splendid cross-court forehand pass.

Federer cruised home in the second set although Zverev had the satisfaction of saving two match points before going out. Earlier, Djokovic took control early in each set and closed out the match in a tidy 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Playing in sunny conditions with no wind, the third-seeded Djokovic was able to dictate play with well-angled winners from the baseline. Del Potro, meanwhile, had trouble with his forehand, hitting the advertising banners lining the back of the court in one instance.

Djokovic had a 20-8 edge in winners while Del Potro committed 20 unforced errors with his forehand to only eight with his backhand.

In the other half of the draw, three-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal faced eighth-seeded Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco for the first time since Nadal's epic five-set win in the semifinal at the Australian Open. Also, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez of Chile was up against Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco.

The Rome Masters is a claycourt warmup for the French Open, which begins in three weeks.

Djokovic improved to 4-5 against opponents in the top 10 this year. The Serb needs to defend his title to prevent Andy Murray from taking the No. 3 ranking from him, even though Murray was eliminated by Monaco on Wednesday.

Del Potro, who helped Argentina reach the Davis Cup final last year, has never reached a Masters Series semifinal on clay and dropped to 0-3 in his career against Djokovic.

In Stuttgart, Germany, second-seeded Elena Dementieva overcame Marion Bartoli 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 yesterday to reach the semifinals of the Porsche Grand Prix for the third time.

Dementieva, who won the Olympic gold last year in Beijing, needed four match points to finish off Bartoli, hitting a deep backhand on the line to clinch her third straight victory over the Frenchwoman and take a 5-2 career edge.

"I am very glad I was able to finish strongly," Dementieva said. "It was a very emotional match for both of us."

Dementieva was up a break in the second set and led 4-3, but Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon runner-up, won the next three games to even the score at one set apiece.

Dementieva proved to be the steadier player in the third, while Bartoli hit big winners followed by mistakes on straightforward shots.

The Russian raced to a 4-0 lead though she nearly threw the match away as Bartoli won the next three games.

Dementieva recovered in time and is now two wins away from capturing her third title of the year.


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