- Associated Press - Thursday, November 24, 2011

LONDON (AP) - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga qualified for the semifinals in the ATP World Tour Finals at the expense of Rafael Nadal, beating the second-ranked Spaniard 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-3 on Thursday in a decisive round-robin match.

Tsonga improved to 2-1 in group play while Nadal fell to 1-2, meaning the sixth-seeded Frenchman will join Roger Federer in the last four from Group B. It is the first time Tsonga has reached the semifinals at the season-ending tournament for the world’s top eight players, while Nadal missed out for the second time in five appearances.

Federer beat Mardy Fish 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 earlier to finish the group stage 3-0. David Ferrer also has qualified for the semifinals from Group A, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych in contention for the last spot going into the final group matches Friday.

In perhaps the hardest-fought match of the tournament so far, Tsonga broke twice in the third set to go up 5-2. But he faltered in the next game, double-faulting three times to give Nadal renewed hope, only to bounce back and break the Spaniard at love. Tsonga sealed the victory with a hard forehand winner.

Nadal was coming off his worst defeat ever against Federer, losing 6-3, 6-0 to his Swiss rival Tuesday, and said after that match that a shoulder problem nearly caused him to pull out earlier in the week. The Spaniard looked to have regained his fighting spirit against Tsonga, however, although it was the Frenchman who looked slightly stronger at the start.

Tsonga often dictated the early rallies with his powerful groundstrokes and earned the only two break points of the first set by taking a 15-40 lead in the fourth game. Nadal saved the first by challenging a call in the middle of a long rally when he correctly judged that Tsonga’s shot was long, and hit a service winner on the second.

Tsonga dominated the tiebreaker, however, winning the last five points and hitting an ace on his first set point.

Nadal earned the first break of the match when Tsonga served at 5-4 in the second to force a decider. But the Frenchman soon took charge in the third, breaking for a 2-1 lead with a delicate drop shot that Nadal could only return into the net. Nadal then netted an easy forehand to go down 5-2, hanging his head in despair, and couldn’t fight back despite Tsonga handing him the next game.

In the early match, Federer began the first set with the same kind of ruthless efficiency that helped him beat Nadal in just one hour, breaking Fish three times in the first set.

But the Swiss star’s accuracy and energy levels dropped in the second, as the American jumped out to a 5-2 lead and served out the set when Federer netted a backhand.

But Federer immediately took control of the decider, breaking for a 2-0 lead with a forehand passing shot. The fourth-seeded Federer lost just two points on his serve the rest of the way and converted his first match point when Fish shanked a backhand wide.

“He really started to zone in on many shots” in the second set, Federer said. “I thought he was able to keep that up in the third set. So I was happy to get the crucial break early in the third and maybe cruise a bit more.”

Federer had already clinched a spot in the semifinals, while Fish was eliminated after losing his first two matches.

“Bottom line is I’m going to go away 0-3, which is hard,” Fish said. “But I had a great experience just being a part of this. It gives you a lot of ammunition to want to come back next year.”

Federer improved his unbeaten streak to 15 straight matches after winning titles in Basel and Paris.

The 16-time Grand Slam winner is the defending champion in London and is looking for a record sixth title at the season-ending event and his 70th overall.

Thursday’s win was his 37th victory overall at the ATP finals _ previously known as the Masters Cup _ surpassing Boris Becker and putting him two short of Ivan Lendl’s record.

Even at 30, though, Federer doesn’t feel pressed for time to chase even more records.

“I guess I do play for a little bit of the legacy and the history, the record books, all that stuff,” Federer said. “But it’s really the press that reminds me of most things. I just try to go along with it because I have no intentions to quit. So I can concentrate on just playing tennis at the moment.”



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