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Top-ranked Rafael Nadal loses to Monfils in quarterfinals

TOP-RANKED Rafael Nadal was eliminated from the Qatar Open yesterday, losing to Gael Monfils of France 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

Nadal, who cruised through his first two matches at the season-opening event in Doha, was broken twice in the first set and once in the second, and finished the match with only 10 winners. Monfils had 35.

"He played better than me. That's what happened," the Spaniard said. "I had my chances ... but he was serving really well. Maybe I need more time on court. I played two matches in Abu Dhabi and three here, which is good, but I need more matches."

Last week, at an exhibition tournament in the United Arab Emirates, Nadal lost to fourth-ranked Andy Murray in the final.

Second-ranked Roger Federer and Murray advanced to the semifinals, however. Federer beat Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (6), and Murray defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine 6-4, 6-2.

Nadal is preparing for the Australian Open, where he reached the semifinals last year for his best showing at the season's first major tournament.

"There is still 1? weeks to go for the Australian Open," said Nadal, who is only 22 but has already won five Grand Slam titles. "I am not playing any event anywhere now. I will practice here and I fly out to Australia on Sunday. I will not go with any bad feeling with this loss. I am playing well. I just need more matches."

Monfils, a 14th-ranked Frenchman who reached the Qatar Open final in 2006 but is playing this year as a wild card, had eight aces to none for Nadal.

"I had an almost perfect start to the match and I played well on most points," Monfils said. "I didn't allow him to settle down. I think he was a little tired (in the second set). I kept my serve and I am very happy about that."

Nadal said it simply wasn't his day.

"Monfils served really well," Nadal said. "If he wants to improve his ranking, he will have to play like he did today. I knew it won't be easy at the start of the season, but I am happy with my game."

Monfils reached the French Open semifinals last year -- his best-ever showing at a Grand Slam tournament -- but lost to Federer. Nadal then beat Federer to win his fourth straight title at Roland Garros, and claimed his first Wimbledon title a few weeks after that.

"When I started my match, I didn't look at him," Monfils said. "Rafa is Rafa, he is a tough player so I just played my game. I will take it step by step now.

"I think I can reach the top five, but I will have to keep working hard and playing well like this."

Monfils will next face Andy Roddick in the semifinals. The eighth-ranked American defeated unseeded Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-3, 6-2.

"I feel good right now," Roddick said. "I am keeping it pretty tight on the court. The drop shots helped a lot. I guess it helps to have those things worked on during the offseason."

Roddick's serve was also working, and he finished the match with 13 aces.

"I got troubled in the match just once, but like last night (a 6-3, 7-5 win over Arnaud Clement of France), I came up with the big serves when it mattered most," Roddick said.

Federer easily won the first set against Kohlschreiber, but he was broken twice in the match and had to save three set points in the tiebreaker after trailing 5-1 and 6-3. He eventually reeled off five straight points to win.

"I had a strong finish," Federer said. "My focus lies here in Doha. I am not thinking ahead. I want to win the title."

In the semifinals, Federer will face Murray, the same man he beat to win his 13th Grand Slam title at last year's US Open.

Murray's match against Stakhovsky was the opposite of Federer's -- he struggled for part of the first set but breezed through the second, taking a 5-0 lead before his Ukrainian opponent broke back and held serve.


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