Federer, Nadal just a match away from anticipated final


PARIS -- They are the two men standing in the way of the most eagerly anticipated French Open men's final since John McEnroe faced Ivan Lendl in 1984.

David Nalbandian of Argentina and Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia.

So, just how do you say the word "spoiler" in one of the several languages Ljubicic speaks, or in Nalbandian's native tongue, Spanish? It may be of use because a French Open final between top-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland and No. 2 and defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain -- while highly desired by those tennis fans not living in Croatia or Argentina -- is hardly a sure thing.

Tomorrow, the men's semifinals will feature Nadal against No. 4 Ljubicic and Federer against No. 3 Nalbandian, the first time since 1985 that the top four seeds reached the semifinals in Paris.

"Nobody can intimidate me," Ljubicic said yesterday after defeating Julien Benneteau of France, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, in the quarterfinals.

And last year's Davis Cup star -- as American fans may remember -- is not exactly fearing Nadal's clay-court streak, which hit 58 consecutive victories after Novak Djokovic of Serbia retired in the third set of their quarterfinal because of back problems.

"I'm not impressed with that streak," Ljubicic said. "I mean, it's fantastic results. But he was close to losing matches so many times that, as I said before, it has to happen one day. And I do believe I can beat him.

"That streak has to finish one day. I hope that's going to be on Friday. He cannot win forever and everybody knows that."

Nadal's closest call in recent times came against Federer in the Italian Open final last month, in which he saved two match points. The sensational match merely whetted the taste buds of fans, serving as the appetizer to the main course at Roland Garros.

As for the other semifinal, Nalbandian holds a 6-5 career edge against Federer and won their only other meeting on clay, though it was in 2002.

In the women's semifinals today, 2003 and 2005 French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne will play reigning U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, and 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is pitted against 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova.

Lisa Dillman writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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