Söderling reaches Rotterdam semi-finals

Defending champion Robin Söderling saved a match point before defeating Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber on Thursday to reach the Rotterdam ATP quarter-finals.

The 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (9/7) win took the Swede’s record this season to 10-1 while also securing a first career victory over the German after losing all three of their previous matches.

This was his first tournament after a disappointing showing at the Australian Open last month, where he was bounced out of the fourth round by an unheralded Ukrainian. Söderling will now face 2007 champion Mikhail Youzhny in a rerun of the 2010 final for a place in Saturday’s semi-finals.

Top-seed Söderling, the runner-up at the French Open in the last two seasons, was made to work by Kohlschreiber, having to come back from a break in the third set and saving a match point in the tiebreaker.

He finally claimed victory after 2 hours 22 minutes on his third match point after firing 16 aces to a dozen for the German.

Youzhny, the Russian sixth seed, eliminated the last Dutchman in the field, dispatching Thiemo de Bakker 6-4, 6-4 to improve to 13-5 lifetime at the tournament.

Söderling won the title in 2010 when Youzhny retired hurt trailing 0-2 in the second set.

Seventh seed Ivan Ljubičić rediscovered his winning form to bury a three-year winless drought at this tournament.

The veteran, who turns 32 in a month, advanced into his second consecutive quarter-final of the season with a 6-0, 6-4 win over French qualifier Benoît Paire.

For Ljubičić, regaining the winning formula this week has been a tonic after first-round defeats in the past three editions at the Ahoy stadium.

“It’s nice to be back in this way, I’ve lost my last four matches on this court. I’ve been coming to Rotterdam a long time but the last three years have

been difficult for me,” said Ljubičić, ranked 15th, who also saw off number 136 Paire in the Australian Open second round.

The losses were made all the more painful, coming in the wake of finals in 2005 and 2007 for the Croatian. The holder of 10 trophies also played a quarter-final last week at home in Zagreb, going out to eventual champion Ivan Dodig.

Fourth seed Tomáš Berdych, who had a one-hour stroll in the opening round, had to work for more than two hours Thursday to get past Russian qualifier Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.

“Conditions here suit my game, I served well and played aggressive,” said Berdych, who lost the Wimbledon final last year to Rafael Nadal after beating Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.

Berdych next faces eighth-seeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a semi-final spot.

Marcos Baghdatis, the conqueror of Andy Murray, won on his 10th ace, defeating Feliciano López of Spain 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.

“It was a tricky one,” said the Cypriot. “He gives you no rhythm, I had to find a solution to win.”

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.