Nikolay Davydenko grabbed the last semifinal spot at the ATP World Tour Finals by beating Robin Soderling 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 on Friday, knocking defending champion Novak Djokovic out of the tournament. Davydenko, Djokovic and Soderling all finished with two wins in the round-robin phase, but the third-ranked Serb was eliminated on sets. Soderling had already secured advancement and finished at the top of Group B. Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal 7-6 (5), 6-3 earlier on Friday, handing the Spaniard his third straight loss at the tournament.
Davydenko will face top-ranked Roger Federer in today's first semifinal match. Soderling, who entered the tournament as an alternate after Andy Roddick pulled out, will take on US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in a matchup of big hitters. "He's probably very confident now, beating Roger yesterday," Soderling said of the Argentine. "So I have to step it up at least one level from today's match. But I think I can do it. I played good this whole week."
Davydenko, who reached the final of the lucrative season-ending tournament last year, broke Soderling for the first time to take a 4-2 lead in the decider and converted his second match point when the Swede missed an easy forehand at the net with a wide-open court. The Russian, who double-faulted on the first match point, reacted with a stunned look of disbelief before letting out a celebratory yell.
"I was thinking now (it will be) deuce, I already need to think about my serve," Davydenko said. "I could not believe, he cannot hit ball out because these balls should be in. I don't know why he (made the) mistake." In a match that featured plenty of big serves but few memorable rallies, Soderling was up a mini-break at 4-3 in the first-set tiebreaker but lost four points in a row. The Russian converted his first set point with an overhead smash.
Soderling, who reached his first Grand Slam final this year at the French Open, slipped when running to the net when serving at 4-3 in the second set and fell hard to ground. He got up seemingly unscathed and later got the first break of the match to go up 5-4 before serving out the set. Both players allowed few break opportunities, with Davydenko winning 80 per cent of the points on first serve, to 78 per cent for Soderling.
Davydenko has struggled with a sore left leg this week, and said he did not practise on Thursday, opting to get treatment on the tight muscle instead. Now he has little time to recover ahead of today's early semifinal match against Federer. "Today was less pain, and I could run," he said. "For sure, I need to be fit for tomorrow." Nadal struggled for the third match in a row and finished with nearly three times as many unforced errors as winners - 35 to 12. He needed medical treatment on his lower back at 2-1 in the second set, and was broken in the next game. The second-ranked Spaniard saved two match points in the final game before sending a backhand wide on the third.
Djokovic had even more errors,37, but hit 21 winners and made fewer mistakes than Nadal when it mattered. Nadal had broken back twice in the first set to reach the tiebreaker, where he shanked a couple of forehands and quickly fell behind 6-2. He saved three set points before sending a forehand wide on the fourth. Nadal said he lacked the "necessary calm" at decisive moments. "For example, the forehand in 6-5 of the tiebreak, was an easy ball," he said. "And when you are playing good, that wouldn't be a problem, that ball. But, you know, I had the mistake, I lose the set, and with that set the match." N
adal leaves the tournament without having won a single set, and is now on a four-match losing streak after losing to Djokovic in the semifinals of the Paris Masters this month. *AP