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Nadal Still No. 2 After Epic Battle; Federer Up Next

Hamburg, Germany

Rafael Nadal has been ranked No. 2 behind Federer for a record 147 consecutive weeks.© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal has been ranked No. 2 behind Federer for a record 147 consecutive weeks.

Rafael Nadal overcame Novak Djokovic in a titanic battle 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 after 3hrs., 3min. Saturday to keep his No. 2 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings and set up a final against No. 1 Roger Federer at Masters Series Hamburg presented by EON Hanse.

The 21-year-old Nadal, who has ranked No. 2 behind Federer for a record 147 consecutive weeks, is now through to his second final at the Rothenbaum. He reached the title match for the first time last year, where he lost to Roger Federer and had his 81-match clay court winning streak snapped, before going on to win his third successive Roland Garros crown (d. Federer).

Federer and Nadal also featured in the final of ATP Masters Series Monte-Carlo four weeks ago, where Nadal extended his series lead to 9-6 over the Swiss as he claimed his 10th Masters Series shield.

"I play in Roger’s home, because he won here 4 times, this is probably his best clay court," said Nadal. "It will be a very tough match. It will be tough, too, because he played a little over an hour and I played over 3 hours. I hope, this doesn’t affect me too much tomorrow. I will go on court with my best motivation. This is a Mastes Series where I haven’t won so far, so that is a special motivation for me, too. Just go on court, and try my best."

Nadal was made to work hard for his final place. In a first set featuring five breaks of serve under the roof on Center Court, Djokovic began in blistering form, breaking Nadal early to lead 3-0. The lead was short lived though as Nadal went on to break back with a forehand winner to level. The Spaniard looked to have got the upper hand as the pressure began to tell on Djokovic, and Nadal broke again to lead 5-4. However, with Nadal serving for the set, Djokovic relaxed, went for his shots and it paid off as he leveled for 5-5.

With the atmosphere rising, last year’s finalist Nadal found more outstanding tennis and a forehand pass broke Djokovic’s serve again and gave Nadal the 6-5 lead. This time the 21-year-old did not falter and he served it out after 1hr., 12min.

Both men continued to produce their finest tennis for much of the second set, before Djokovic was able to edge out a break of serve to lead 3-2 with some deep, aggressive hitting bullying Nadal into errors. With Nadal serving at 2-5 15-30 a reflex volley from Djokovic set up two set points and the pressure told on Nadal as he put a forehand wide for Djokovic to level the match.

Djokovic was unable to capitalize on his momentum though, as Nadal immediately earned a break of serve in the third set with a wonderful backhand cross court pass to lead 1-0. After failing to convert break back chances, Djokovic’s resistance began to crumble and he surrendered his serve again to trail 2-5. In an epic final game, Nadal missed four match points and saved four break points before closing it out on his fifth match point as Djokovic’s drop shot failed to make it over the net.

"It was great to be a part of a fantastic tennis match," said Djokovic. "I felt that the quality of tennis today was on a really high level and I’m happy for that. Unfortunately, it finished with a loss for me but I have to take only the best out of this match."

"I think special because we played very good tennis, at a very good level," said Nadal. "It was an amazing match. I think Djokovic played very good on clay. Especially today. I probably played one of my best matches."

Nadal, who leads the ATP circuit with a 36-7 match wins record this season, is bidding for his third title of the season to add to his Monte-Carlo and Barcelona (d. Ferrer) trophies. He has also finished as a runner-up twice in 2008, falling to Mikhail Youzhny in Chennai and Nikolay Davydenko at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.

The Mallorcan now improves to a 109-24 lifetime record in ATP Masters Series play since contesting his first event in Monte-Carlo five years ago. He has advanced to eight of the nine ATP Masters Series tournaments in his career (except Cincinnati) and has won 10 titles in 14 finals.

World No. 3 Novak Djokovic (pictured above right) climbed to within 310 points of Nadal after claiming his fourth ATP Masters Series title in Rome last week (d. Wawrinka). The 20-year-old Serb, who leads the ATP circuit with three titles, was contesting his sixth semifinal in eight tournaments this year.

In January he captured his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final, before claiming his third ATP Masters Series title in Indian Wells (d. Fish).

Defending Champion Federer Closes on Fifth Title 

ATP World No. 1 Roger Federer shone through the rain at Masters Series Hamburg presented by EON Hanse on Saturday as he fired into his fifth final with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Italian Andreas Seppi.

In Sunday’s final, Federer will face No. 2 Rafael Nadal. The two also featured in the final of ATP Masters Series Monte-Carlo four weeks ago, where Nadal extended his series lead to 9-6 over the Swiss.

The defending champion and four-time winner has now won 29 of 30 matches since 2002 in Hamburg; his only loss came against Australian Mark Philippoussis in the third round five years ago.

After losing in the first round on his first two appearances in 2000-01 the 26-year-old won his first title in 2002 (d. Safin) and followed with crowns in 2004 (d. Coria) and 2005 (d. Gasquet). Last year, Federer won his fourth title against No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the final; it was his first victory on clay against the Spaniard and ended Nadal’s 81-match clay court winning streak.

"I am very proud of my success here in Hamburg," said Federer. "I only lost one of the last 30 matches, and this on clay at a place which is quite difficult because of its slow conditions. So it helped me a lot in the past, with Paris coming up. So I am very satisfied. It would mean quite a lot for me to win tomorrow."

Federer takes a 41-match winning streak in Germany into Sunday's final.

He is 9-0 lifetime in German finals, winning Munich in 2003, Halle from 2003-06 and Hamburg in 2002, '04-05 and '07.

With the roof closed for the first time this week on Center Court, Federer was dominant from the start in the first semifinal of the day at the Rothenbaum, breaking early to lead 3-1. With Seppi laboring on serve, Federer had eight opportunities to break throughout the first set but had to be content with just the one and went on to close out the opening set after 49 minutes, putting away a smash on his second set point at 5-3.

Seppi had a rare chance to break the Federer serve early in the second set, earning the break point with an exquisite drop shot with Federer serving at 0-1 30-30. His chance was short-lived though, as a net-rushing Federer forced the error from Seppi and, after securing his service hold, the Swiss No. 1 then went on to break Seppi to lead 2-1.

Federer broke for a second time to lead 4-1 and, with Seppi later serving at 1-5, Federer was quick to put the Italian under pressure, converting on his second match point at 30-40 as Seppi sent a forehand long after 1hr., 19min.

"I played a very good match today," commented Federer. "For me it was a great win, especially going into the French Open. That’s why I am very happy to be again in another Hamburg final because it always helps with the confidence right before Paris."

The Oberwil resident, who finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Masters Series Monte-Carlo, now will contest his third ATP final of the season. He is bidding for his 55th ATP singles title, and second of the year, having captured the title in Estoril (d. Davydenko) in April. Federer has 54-18 lifetime record in ATP singles finals, 14-2 on clay.

Federer has contested 22 ATP Masters Series finals and has a 14-8 record, with nine of his titles coming on clay. He now improves to 172-51 in overall ATP Masters Series play since contesting his first ATP Masters Series tournament in Miami in 1999.

It is the 14th straight ATP Masters Series event that one of the Top 3 players in the South African Airways ATP Rankings has featured in the final. Between them, they have accounted for three of the four ATP Masters Series events already played in 2008; the only exception was Nikolay Davydenko’s victory over Rafael Nadal in Miami.

World No. 43 Seppi (pictured right) was bidding to become the first Italian to ever reach an ATP Masters Series final (since 1990). He was the first Italian to advance to the semifinals or better in Hamburg since 1977 when Paulo Bertolucci captured the title (d. Manuel Orantes). The last Italian to reach an ATP Masters Series semifinal before Seppi was Filippo Volandri in Rome last year.

The 24-year-old Seppi, who survived a three hour and 13 minute marathon victory over Nicolas Kiefer in the quarterfinals and upset World No. 9 Richard Gasquet in the second round, was through to his first ATP semifinal since Vienna in October last year (l. to Djokovic). Earlier in the season he reached the Rotterdam quarterfinals in February (d. No. 19 Hewitt, No. 2 Nadal, l. to Soderling)

The Caldaro resident now slips to 14-13 (7-4 on clay) for the season and to 5-15 against Top 10 players in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.

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