MASON, Ohio - Heat. Wind. Thunder. Drizzle. Roger Federer took everything that the afternoon and Robby Ginepri, of Marietta, Ga., could throw at him, and found a way to overcome it.
Federer rallied for a 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 semifinal victory Saturday in the $2.45 million Cincinnati Masters, leaving no doubt that the world's No. 1 player is back in form and ready for the U.S. Open's top spot.
Federer will try for his ninth tournament title of the season Sunday against Andy Roddick, who beat third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 7-6 (4) in the other semifinal. History weighs against Roddick, who is 1-9 career against Federer and has lost their last five matches, including the last two Wimbledon finals.
Overall, Federer has won the last 21 times he reached a tournament final.
"I play my best in the finals, in the important matches," Federer said. "That's why I'm No. 1."
He took five weeks off after winning his third consecutive Wimbledon title, getting some rest and letting a sore foot heal. Federer was out of sync when he showed up in Cincinnati, looking to regain his edge and confidence.
A few matches were all he needed.
"I really feel I've got my confidence back," said Federer, who is 63-3 this season, including 37-1 on hard courts. "My footwork is back, the eye is back - watching the ball, reading the game. Definitely I'm feeling really good right now."
He extended his winning streak to 17 matches under trying conditions, facing an American who was on a summer-long roll and had the crowd behind him. They'd faced each other once before, when Ginepri was an awed 18-year-old at the 2001 U.S. Open. He was overwhelmed by the setting and the opponent, losing a lopsided second-round match in straight sets.
This time, Ginepri knew he belonged and took Federer to the limit.
Playing on a broiling, 94-degree afternoon in wind gusts that toyed with shots, Ginepri used his biggest advantage - his accurate serve - to full advantage. Ginepri had lost only one game on his serve all week, and was the only player who hadn't dropped a set heading into the semifinals.
Ginepri broke Federer's serve to go up 5-4 in the first set, setting up the break point by swatting an overhead back at him. He screamed "Yeah!" when his crosscourt forehand closed out the set.
"I think he was a little uptight in the first few games of the first set," said Ginepri, who stayed calm throughout his first ATP Masters semifinal. "It was a little gusty out there - that could have been a factor as well."
Not for long. Sensing his predicament, Federer played his best.
"I'm not allowed to make any more mistakes or it's all over," Federer summed up. "I was aware of that."
Federer broke Ginepri's serve to take the second set 7-5. The third set also stayed on serve until the final game, when Ginepri sailed a backhand return wide to lose serve and the match.
Ginepri is having his best summer on the tour, winning his second career ATP title at Indianapolis last month. A first-round loss at Wimbledon inspired him to work harder on his game - he spends an extra 45 minutes a day in practice and an additional 45 minutes working out.
With a sculpted body and a sharper focus, Ginepri has gone 14-3 on hard courts this year. He never got a toehold against Federer, who allowed him only one break point during the match.
"It's anybody's match out there when you're that close," said Ginepri, still brooding about the loss. "I thought I was playing good enough to win."
Against anyone else, perhaps.
The crowd favored Roddick in the other semifinal, urging him on after he skinned his right elbow and the back of his right hand while taking control of the first set. Afterward, he had two bright red scrapes below the elbow, another on his knuckles and one on his knee.
Roddick slipped while running down a drop shot, tapped it back over the net for a point, then slid hard on the court. He winced in pain when he got up, but kept playing and broke Hewitt two points later for a 4-3 lead that held.
Both players held serve in the second set, sending it to the tiebreaker. Roddick had four aces in the tiebreaker - and 24 overall - as he got a breakthrough win. Roddick had been 1-6 career against Hewitt, losing all five times they played on a hard court.
He repeatedly pumped his fist, then buried his face in a towel after finishing it off with a 133 mph ace.
"I felt really good about it," Roddick said. "I didn't want to come in here and explain why I lost to Lleyton again, to be honest."
Next comes the rematch against a player who has tormented him even more.
"I want a shot at him," Roddick said. "Maybe I can turn the momentum in the series with one win. You never know. I want to keep trying."
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