Nadal threat to Federer’s fancy

WITH the one missing Grand Slam title in his collection now just two matches away, Roger Federer’s dream of winning the French Open is closer to being realised.

He will have to pass the supreme test of Rafael Nadal of Spain, though, arguably the hottest player in the game.

Top seed Federer beat Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 6-3, while fourth seed Nadal, who has won five titles this season, progressed to the semi-finals after ousting compatriot David Ferrer 7-5 6-2 6-0.

“I am not there yet, but if I win here it will be like a dream coming true,” said Federer.

“It would mean I’ve won them all and it would be quite an achievement at the age of 23.”

Federer, the top-ranked player in the world, won three of the four grand slams on offer in 2004 but the French Open was not one of them.

Before this year, he had never advanced beyond the quarter-final round.

This time, Federer has not dropped a set in his march to the semi-finals.

Federer breezed through his match against Hanescu, the world number 90, with his usual elegance.

After the convincing win on Philippe Chatrier centre court, the Swiss star said: “I have more faith in my game now, not only on clay, I mean, overall.

“I am very happy about my performance, I think this was one of my best matches. I am glad about my game.

“I don’t fear anyone but I respect them all. And this is a big thrill for me to be in the semis.”

Federer has already beaten Nadal once this year in a five-set thriller at the Miami Masters.

Meanwhile, defending Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova trained her focus on the grass court season after bowing out of the French Open at the quarter-final stage.

The world number two was overwhelmed by 10th seed Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-4 6-2 as the Belgian continued her comeback from a year ravaged by injury and illness by extending her winning streak to 22 matches.

Sharapova will now focus on Wimbledon, where she enjoyed so much success 12 months ago.

Although disappointed, Sharapova was gracious in defeat, praising Henin-Hardenne, who is rapidly becoming the player to beat in the women’s game.

She said: “Justine has a lot of confidence in her game, you hit the ball hard but she will return even harder.”

Henin-Hardenne, the 2003 French Open champion, admitted she is playing well but insists she can improve further.

“I know I can do better,” she declared.

“I think I am not far away from my level of two years ago and maybe even better.”

Henin-Hardenne will next face seventh seed Nadia Petrova of Russia who ousted Serbia & Montenegro’s Ana Ivanovic 6-2 6-2 to progress to the semi-finals for the second time.

Petrova’s compatriot, Elena Likhovtseva, is also through to the last four following a 2-6 6-4 6-4 success against 15-year-old Bulgarian Sesil Karatantcheva, the conqueror of Venus Williams.

Likhovtseva will play Mary Pierce who rolled back the years with an outstanding performance to upset top seed Lindsay Davenport and reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2000 when she won the event.

Montreal-born Pierce, who has French nationality, beat Davenport 6-3 6-2 on the Philippe Chatrier Court.

Davenport was not at her best, but she was under pressure throughout with Pierce hitting 28 winners in the match.

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