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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Stars take different paths to semis

Associated Press

NEW YORK – Roger Federer sure knows how to kill a party.

Federer’s quiet brilliance tranquilized U.S. Open fans one night after they roared nonstop for Andre Agassi and James Blake.

Watching Federer, the defending champion and top seed, roll past Argentine David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-4, 6-1 Thursday night was like watching a rerun of a mediocre movie that has one star, no plot and no drama.

Federer was too good – too strong with his serves, too quick with his returns, too sharp on his groundstrokes and volleys – to let the match become anything more than a predictable step into the semifinals against Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt was a winner earlier in the day in five sets against Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen.

Federer beat Hewitt in the Open final last year and has won their last eight matches, four in Grand Slam events, going back to the 2004 Australian Open.

“Maybe we had enough men’s tennis over the last few days,” said Federer, the only semifinalist who did not play five sets.

Federer didn’t shy away from saying that he couldn’t play much better than he did against the 11th-seeded Nalbandian in a 1-hour, 40-minute sweep.

“I played great last year, and it’s just looking great again,” Federer said. “It’s exactly the way I should be playing at this stage of tournament because the opponents are only getting tougher. The result really shows it. I’ve been struggling a little bit over the last few days, but this is a great rhythm I got against David. I’m surprised it went so quick.”

Federer was as enthralled by the Agassi-Blake match as the fans who stayed past 1 a.m. to watch it.

“I came back from dinner and I thought, ‘It’s looking good for James,’ and suddenly it turned around,” he said. “What a thriller. I was up until 1:30 myself. Maybe it wasn’t the best preparation, but I enjoyed it.”

Federer he’s happy to see two Americans in the semifinal.

“This doesn’t happen every day, so you better enjoy this moment,” he said with a sly smile.

Hewitt, ragged at the start, virtually flawless at the end, dodged danger in yet another five-setter to keep up his bid for a second U.S. Open title.

The third-seeded Australian, who won the Open in 2001, advanced with a 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over the unseeded Nieminen, the first player from Finland to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Hewitt made only two unforced errors in the fifth set while putting away 15 winners to end the threat from the left-handed Nieminen. In the first set, Hewitt racked up 16 unforced errors.

“I was just struggling a little bit with my movement,” Hewitt said. “Just felt a step slower, a bit sluggish out there.”

Hewitt seemed flat much of the match, never even trying to rally himself with his usual cries of “Come on!” after a winner in the first four sets. Instead Nieminen generated noise from the crowd, inspiring chants of “Let’s go, Jarkko!” from fans pulling for an upset by the underdog.

“I felt that he’s not that confident on the court because he doesn’t show those emotions that he’s usually showing,” said Nieminen, who had won only one match in three previous years at the Open. “Maybe he was a little bit surprised after the first set.”

An Open semifinalist for the fifth time on a hard court similar to the kind he grew up on in Adelaide, Hewitt had come off an easy straight-sets victory against No. 15 Dominik Hrbaty in the fourth round. But Hewitt struggled before winning a five-setter against No. 25 Taylor Dent in the third round.

Nieminen raced relentlessly in the opening set, winning the last five games as he retrieved shots that seemed out of reach. Hewitt settled into a rhythm in the second set, winning 19 of 21 points on his way to a 5-0 lead. He served out the set to even the match 1-1, but then faded again. After they exchanged the next two sets, Hewitt finally got out of his funk. He broke Nieminen with a crisp forehand pass and let loose a “Come on!” that now really meant something.

Hewitt served a 122-mph ace – the first of 10 straight points he won on serve – and raced to a 4-0 lead. Nieminen made one last stand, enduring nine deuces before holding serve. But Hewitt streaked through the next two games, closing out the match with a volley winner and yelling “Come on!” one last time.

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