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Nalbandian and Federer reach semis

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SHANGHAI, China -- Defending champion David Nalbandian kept his Masters Cup hopes alive, sent Swiss Roger Federer into the semi-finals and knocked Andy Roddick out with a 6-2 7-6 victory over the American on Thursday.

The Argentine defused Roddick's serve to give himself a route into the last four.

He then needed Federer to beat Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic in the later Red Group match and the world number one obliged with a 7-6 6-4 victory.

Afterwards Nalbandian revealed that just before the match he learned that a young relative had been killed in an accident.

Nine-year-old Lautaro Nalbandian, a cousin and godson of the tennis star, died when he was crushed between a lift and a wall in the family's home city of Cordoba, Argentina.

"It was terrible," he said. " I couldn't enjoy the match the way I would like to. Life is like this. I can do nothing from here. I tried to push as hard as I could on court."

Fifth ranked Roddick, a shadow of the player who came close to upsetting Federer on Tuesday, joined Spain's Tommy Robredo in being eliminated from the tournament after defeat in the first two-set encounter in a tight Red Group.

"Give credit where credit's due, I didn't play badly tonight, I hit the ball through the court ... but he played very well," said Roddick.

The 24-year-old American started poorly and Nalbandian, no slouch as a returner of the ball at the best of times, pounced on his below-par serves to break in the first game of the match.

"In the beginning I played very good," said Nalbandian. "I was hitting good shots and got control of the match. He didn't serve so good, that's why I went away."

Roddick's attempts to get a serve and volley game going were undone by some predictable shot choices and the Argentine's pinpoint passes and it was no surprise when he went a second break down for 4-1.

Four fierce serves in a row to save another break, and the set, put a spring into Roddick's step but the brief rally ended when Nalbandian successfully appealed a wide call at 40-0 down when serving for the set and went on to win the game.

The second set was closer with Roddick getting his ace count up but his approaches to the net were still laboured -- he won just nine of 23 net points in the match -- and Nalbandian broke him again to lead 4-3.

Glimmer of hope

Roddick broke back when his opponent was serving for the set but it only delayed his defeat as he gave up a 3-1 lead to lose 7-4 in the tiebreak with a series of errors to give Nalbandian his glimmer of hope.

"Now I must wait," the Argentine said.

Federer, champion in 2003 and 2004 and beaten finalist last year, qualified for the semis for the fifth year in a row after winning his opening two matches.

Then, despite being broken in his first service game, he duly despatched Ljubicic, to become the first player to win 90 matches in a season since Ivan Lendl won 106 in 1982.

He also extended his winning streak to 27 matches and ensured he would remain unbeaten in Masters Cup round robin matches for at least another year.

American James Blake qualified for the last four from Gold Group on Wednesday evening, while world numbers two and three, Rafael Nadal of Spain and Russian Nikolay Davydenko, face off for the final slot in the semis on Friday.

Nalbandian found Roddick a shadow of the player who nearly beat Federer.

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