Federer survives but Nalbandian facing exit

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Roger Federer survived a furious onslaught from Andy Roddick at the Masters Cup on Tuesday but defending champion David Nalbandian was facing an early exit after his second loss.
Federer dropped the first set against the big-serving Roddick and saved three match points in a tense second-set tie-break before running out the 4-6, 7-6 (108), 6-4 winner.
The match made the 2003 and 2004 champion the first man to earn more than seven million dollars in a season and put him within touching distance of the semi-finals.
However Nalbandian, who beat the world number one in last year’s epic final, was on the brink of elimination after falling 5-7, 7-6 (97), 7-5 to Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic.
Ljubicic fired a phenomenal 30 aces as he came from a set down in a marathon two hours and 48 minutes.
Earlier Federer, who last met Roddick in the US Open final, extended his winning streak against the American to eight matches going back more than three years.
But the Swiss, who has never lost a Masters Cup round-robin match, can count himself lucky after finding himself a set and 4-1 down in the second-set tie-break.
“Early on in the tie-break when I was down 4-1 and he’s serving, I thought it was probably not my day,” Federer said.
“I thought to myself maybe I can make him nervous by just staying in the match, so either he got nervous or it just went my way but it was really close, that’s for sure.”
Roddick, who has turned his season around under advisor Jimmy Connors, was dejected with the loss but pleased with his recent progress.
“I played well enough to win tonight, let’s not let that be lost,” he said.
“I felt like I was the better player for two sets tonight so if I can keep building on that and keep improving at the rate I have over the last three or four months, hopefully we can get over that last little hump.”
Blasting eight aces in the first set and unsettling the Swiss with frequent visits to the net, Roddick won the decisive break on a double-fault in the third game.
Roddick escaped two break points and, serving for the set, survived a brief attack of the nerves as he converted his third chance with a backhand volley.
Federer saved another break point at 2-2 in the second set and had Roddick on the ropes at 5-4, but the American escaped three break points.
Tension grew in the Qi Zhong Stadium as the set went to a tie-break and Federer saved three match points.
His relief was palpable when Roddick momentarily lost his cool with a wild jumping volley on Federer’s second set point, tying the match at 1-1.
After breaking Roddick in the third game of the decider, there was only going to be one winner and Federer converted his second match point with his third ace of the last game.
Federer also beat Roddick in the 2003 semi-finals in Houston on the way to his first Masters Cup title. He is bidding to become the event’s first triple champion.
In the late match, Nalbandian and Ljubicic exchanged early breaks before the Argentine broke for 6-5 and served out for the first set.
The title-holder broke immediately in the second and was two points from victory when the Croat broke back before clinching the tie-break with an ace.
Ljubicic broke for 6-5 in the final set and wrapped it up with the first of three match points when Nalbandian netted.
The fixture was a repeat of last year’s final round-robin match which Nalbandian won to reach the semi-finals.
“When you serve 30 aces it’s a pretty hard time for him,” Ljubicic said.
“It’s sweet revenge for last year. I lost 6-2, 6-2, he destroyed me, so it’s nice to come back in the same court after 12 months to get my revenge.”
Nalbandian, who must now beat Roddick in his final match, was left to ponder his mistakes.
“I made easy mistakes with his second serve and I couldn’t make it. I couldn’t close the match,” he said.
“I will try my best to win (on Thursday) and to qualify, of course,” he added.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2006