Roddick sets up clash against Nadal

Indian Wells, March 16:

Andy Roddick beat Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8) on Thursday to move into the Pacific Life Open semi-finals. No 3 Roddick will face No 2 Rafael Nadal, a 7-5, 7-5 winner over Juan Ignacio Chela, on Saturday. The men’s final is Sunday.

On the women’s side, 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova advanced to the semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Nicole Vaidisova. Kuznetsova will face Sybille Bammer, who defeated Tatiana Golovin 6-2, 6-3. The women’s championship match is Saturday.

Roddick and Ljubicic, both big servers with powerful groundstrokes, nearly matched each other shot for shot. There were no service breaks, and the tiebreakers were similarly tight.

Roddick finally ended it with a forehand to the baseline that handcuffed Ljubicic, and he hit an awkward backhand wide. Almost before the ball bounced, the Croatian — who had fought back from three match points during the tiebreaker — began to trot to the net to shake the American’s hand.

The first set tiebreaker was much like the second, with Roddick winning it with a backhand passing shot as Ljubicic charged forward.

Asked about facing Nadal, Roddick said, “You’ve got to make him play. If he’s getting cheapies off of his serve, then that’s a bad thing. At the same time, you don’t want to leave it hanging in the middle of the court.”

Nadal, looking for his first title since winning the French Open last June, was patient against Chela, usually keeping the ball in play until either he would suddenly drive a hard winner down the line or his Argentine foe would hit an errant shot.A 20-year-old Spaniard, Nadal has been ranked No 2 behind Roger Federer for a record 86 weeks. He won five times last year, including beating Federer to successfully defend his Roland Garros title.

Since then, Nadal has gone 12 events without a championship, the longest dry spell since it took him 24 tournaments to win his first tour event in 2004. Nadal said he wasn’t at the top of his game against Chela, but that he is pleased with the way he’s been playing. Three-time defending champion Federer was knocked out of the tournament in his first match, when Guillermo Canas beat him in straight sets to end the Swiss star’s 41-match winning string.

Asked about his stay on the second rung in the rankings, Nadal said, “Right now, I feel good at No 2 because I don’t see a lot of chances for being the No 1. But for sure, my goal is to be the No 1 (some) day.”