Masters Cup semifinals have Spanish flavor

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SHANGHAI, China --- Two days after beating good friend Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer gave him a gift: a spot in the Masters Cup semifinals.

Ferrer, a Spaniard ranked No. 6, overwhelmed No. 8 Richard Gasquet 6-1, 6-1 on Thursday to win the Gold Group and clinch a semifinal berth. Gasquet was eliminated from the season- ending tournament, and the result allowed No. 2 Nadal to advance as well. Earlier, Nadal defeated No. 3 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4.

"We are happy for that because he's Spanish," said Ferrer, a U.S. Open semifinalist who is guaranteed his biggest paycheck.

Ferrer is the hottest player along with Andy Roddick, who has clinched the Red Group and faces top-ranked Roger Federer today. Also in that group, No. 4 Nikolay Davydenko plays No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez.

Nadal played his best match in Shanghai in what he said was one of his toughest indoor performances season. With both knees taped and tired after a long year, he persevered against Djokovic.

"My calendar is tough because I have to play a lot of matches in the clay season," Nadal said.

Djokovic was also weary from more than 100 matches this year and off-court demands on his time. The Serb fended off two break points in the first game before Nadal run off four consecutive games to take control.

Djokovic showed flashes of the play that carried him from No. 16 in the rankings in January to five titles and No. 3. Too often his shoulders slumped after missing shots that would have been winners earlier in the year. He gave a bitter smile when he netted a forehand as Nadal served at 5-4 in the first set. He then trudged to his chair when he sent a backhand long on set point.

Nadal got an early break in the second set. While serving at 4-3, he pumped his fist eight times after holding off the second of Djokovic's two break points with a great backhand volley for a player not known for his net game. Nadal smacked a forehand winner down the line on match point.

"It wasn't my week," Djokovic said. "I wasn't performing the way I wanted to. Unfortunately I have to finish with the three losses, which is a bit disappointing. But, of course, I don't want to think negative. It's been an amazing year."

Now rest beckons.

"I'm going to go somewhere far, far away from everybody," Djokovic said.

Ferrer needed only 59 minutes to beat Gasquet, who never got going after looking sharp while beating Djokovic in his previous match.

"I think everything in his game was horrible for me today," Gasquet said.

Ferrer won his group by taking all three of his matches while dropping only one set, to Nadal.

"I am playing very, very, very good these three matches," Ferrer said.

Gasquet broke serve in the first game, but Ferrer then ran off eight games in a row. The Frenchman did not hold serve until he already was down 2-0 in the second set. Constantly on the run from Ferrer's deep groundstrokes, he managed to win just 12 of 39 points on his serve and had five winners to 25 unforced errors.

"He has the game," Gasquet said. "He played incredible. After I lost 6-1, I lost my confidence. It was impossible for me to come back."

Advancing to the doubles semifinals were Paul Hanley of Australia and Kevin Ullyet of Zimbabwe, along with Martin Damm of the Czech Republic and Leander Paes of India. Hanley and Ullyet beat Damm and Paes, who already had advanced, 6-3, 6-4 to win the Gold Group.


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