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Russian stuns Nadal; Blake faces Federer

Rafael Nadal says he "lost a big opportunity'' in a U.S. Open loss to Mikhail Youzhny.

By TIMES WIRES
Published September 7, 2006


NEW YORK - Rafael Nadal's shots were off the mark and, more shockingly, even his boundless energy seemed to fail him. After one mis-hit, the man usually in perpetual motion hunched over, hands on knees, to catch his breath.

No. 2 Nadal and No. 1 Roger Federer will not become the first pair of men to meet in three consecutive Grand Slam finals during a season: Nadal was upset in the U.S. Open quarterfinals by 54th-ranked Mikhail Youzhny of Russia 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 on Wednesday.

"Unbelievable," said Youzhny, who never before had been beyond the fourth round of a major tournament. "I cannot believe I beat Rafa in four sets."

Nadal, the two-time French Open champion and this year's Wimbledon runnerup, hung his head at changeovers in the fourth set after wasting a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker.

"Mentally, I think I was fresh," Nadal said. "I think what I was missing was a bit of peace of mind in the important moments. Normally, that's not something I'm missing. ... I was not my best in the fourth, no? I know I lost a big opportunity. And after that, Mikhail is playing unbelievable ... all winners."

The top-seeded Federer moved into a quarterfinal against No. 5 James Blake, both winning in straight sets. That half's other quarterfinal is No. 7 Nikolay Davydenko against No. 14 Tommy Haas.

"If I play my best, then I don't see any reason why I can't win. If he's playing his best, then I can see a reason why I might not win, but it's possible," said Blake, a Tampa resident trying to reach his first major semifinal. "He's lost before. He is human."

Federer lost to Nadal in the French Open final, then returned the favor at Wimbledon.

"I enjoy playing against him, but there's nothing more important to me than winning the tournament in the end," Federer said. "So if I'm in the finals, it doesn't need to necessarily be Nadal. That would just add something more special to it, I guess."

Federer is aiming for major title No. 3 of 2006, but he's also aiming for No. 9 of his career. The two-time defending champion won the first 12 points en route to a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 victory over Marc Gicquel. Blake saved all 15 break points and eliminated No. 12 Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.

"It's a great measuring stick to play the best player in the world," Blake said of facing Federer. "If I beat him, it sure as heck doesn't mean I'm the best player in the world, but maybe for a day, I'll think that."

Berdych, a powerful, erratic 20-year-old Czech, said of the missed chances on the break points: "If I, let's say, made one of them, everything can change and be different."

Andy Roddick capped Wednesday's play by beating fellow former champion Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to reach the semifinals for the first time since he won the tournament in 2003.

"Well, I guess I can play tennis a little bit again," Roddick said. "I'm in a little bit of shock. It's been a rough six months for me. I haven't played too well."

In women's play, top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin-Hardenne advanced with relative ease. Mauresmo beat No. 12 Dinara Safina 6-2, 6-3 to move a step closer to her third Grand Slam title of the year.

Henin-Hardenne defeated Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 6-4 in a showdown between past Open champions to set up a semifinal against No. 19 Jelena Jankovic, who won Tuesday.

Henin-Hardenne needed a massage after the first set for a twinge in her back and sore rib, then dropped the first five points of the second set and wound up trailing 3-1. But the Belgian broke right back, and again to go ahead 5-4.

"She hits the ball great. She competes well. She's a great athlete," Davenport said. "In my mind, she's probably the best player in the world."

Henin-Hardenne won the French Open this year, but was the runner-up to Mauresmo at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Mauresmo lost in the U.S. Open quarterfinals four of the previous five years, but she says she's grown more comfortable at the Grand Slam tournament that is the noisiest and requires the most travel to go from hotel to court.

"It's really something special that you have to get used to, in fact. That's really what makes a big difference here," Mauresmo said. "Before, maybe, I felt not so comfortable with that. I feel today it's really much, much better."

Maria Sharapova defeated 27th-seeded Tatiana Golovin 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-0) in a match that lasted more than two hours, setting up a showdown with Mauresmo.

"She's the one to beat right now," Sharapova said. "I feel like I have nothing to lose."

The first set alone lasted 1:18. Sharapova ended any suspense by shutting out Golovin in the second tiebreaker. Her shrieking wore on Golovin.

"It is kind of distracting. You don't need to be screaming that loud," Golovin said. "I don't think the ball actually goes faster if she's grunting."

Sharapova's father, Yuri, kept a close eye on all the proceedings. He appeared to signal Sharapova at one point by pulling a banana out of his bag; shortly thereafter, she pulled out a piece of fruit and ate it.

"Is it a coincidence? Probably," she said.

Youzhny displayed aggressive and on-the-mark shotmaking that he used to knock off No. 6 Tommy Robredo, No. 11 David Ferrer and No. 19 Dominik Hrbaty earlier in the tournament. Before facing Robredo, Youzhny had lost 10 matches in a row against players in the top 10. Before Wednesday, he was 0-6 against players at No. 1 or 2.

But his high-risk style worked to perfection against Nadal. Youzhny compiled more than twice as many winners as Nadal (49-23), limiting Nadal to one in the fourth set.

MEN'S FEATURED RESULTS

Quarterfinals: Roger Federer (1) d. Marc Gicquel 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3; Mikhail Youzhny d. Rafael Nadal (2) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 James Blake (5) d. Tomas Berdych (12) 6-4, 6-3, 6-1; Nikolay Davydenko (7) d. Andy Murray (17) 6-1, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0; Tommy Haas (14) d. Marat Safin 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).

WOMEN'S FEATURED RESULTS

Quarterfinals: Amelie Mauresmo (1) d. Dinara Safina (12) 6-2, 6-3; Justine Henin-Hardenne (2) d. Lindsay Davenport (10) 6-4, 6-4; Maria Sharapova (3) d. Tatiana Golovin (27) 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-0).

TODAY'S FEATURED MATCHES

Men: Roger Federer (1) vs. James Blake (5); Tommy Haas (14) vs. Nikolay Davydenko (7). TODAY ON TV: 11 a.m., 7 p.m., USA