The state of domestic cricket in Pakistan
By Malik Arshed Gilani p.s.n.
It is difficult for any sport to remain static. It will either grow or else lose its following. In Pakistan, hockey was a very popular but lost its glamour once our team stopped being amongst the top two or three in the world. Cricket still lives in our blood but the talent that we produce will become less able to compete if we are not able to improve our domestic game.

Triumphant Pakistan U18s face tough task
By Ghalib Bajwa
These days, the national junior hockey team management, after winning the Boys' U-18 Asia Cup late last month, is carving out a strenuous plan for the preparation of historic Youth Olympics.

FIFA fiddles while football burns
By John Leicester
Talk about shooting the messenger. Football's guardians took the cowardly route with their double decision this week to a) set their police on Thierry Henry for his notorious hand ball and b) do absolutely nothing to prevent such cheating from spoiling the next World Cup.

Athlete and the relaxed intensity
By Aamir Bilal
Usain Bolt nicknamed "Lightning Bolt" by his school fellows from William Knibb Memorial High School in Kingston Jamaica, took thirty three strides at the Berlin's Olympic Stadium in 12th IAAF World Championships to clock 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters dash, thus smashing his own record of 9.69 seconds, which was established in front of 90,000 electrified fans at the Bird's Nest, Beijing in the 2008 Olympic Games.

Davydenko proves there is more to tennis than just Federer and Nadal
By Abdul Ahad Farshori
Two weeks ago, the talk of the town in London was the Federer-Nadal rivalry and their final stretch to reclaim the year end no 1 ranking. If it was not about the Swiss or the Spaniard it was about BritainÝs hope of a Grand Slam -- Andy Murray. Del Potro was also being mentioned here and there after he made waves by beating Federer in the final of the US Open ˝ the last Grand Slam of the year.

King Fed reclaims his crown
By Hasan Junaid Iqbal
Roger Federer has struggled back to reclaim the number one title, he owned for several years, by defeating Britain's Andy Murray in the finals of the ATP World Tour in London.

 

 

 

The state of domestic cricket in Pakistan

By Malik Arshed Gilani p.s.n.

It is difficult for any sport to remain static. It will either grow or else lose its following. In Pakistan, hockey was a very popular but lost its glamour once our team stopped being amongst the top two or three in the world. Cricket still lives in our blood but the talent that we produce will become less able to compete if we are not able to improve our domestic game.

Every country must develop its own method suited to its genius to develop quality cricketers at the age of seventeen. However, all systems must have certain essential qualities. A successful system must aim to impart correct techniques of the basic game at basic levels. The system must be able to grow the game through out the entire country and blueprint a system of competitions at all levels of the game. These competitions need only be encouraged at district, city, and town or village levels.

Every cricket board in Pakistan over the last fifteen years has talked about encouraging school cricket. Has it worked? The reality is that our basic unit is street and mohalla cricket. No amount of wishing will take the majority of children into schools to meet the dreams of our planners. We must accept that the base of our entire top level cricket has been club and departmental cricket.

Every system must find a method of creating a sieve through which the players will seep through to the next higher level. The sieve must have recognized tiers in the shape of a triangle and at each higher level the sieve should have smaller holes. The base must include all of Pakistan and the apex provides some 50 to 60 players who will be the elite. These should consist of players that are developed and selected for specific positions as openers, one down, middle order batsmen, allrounders, fast and spin bowlers.

Pakistan's economy is such that the development of cricket requires a public private joint venture. Departments must always be a vital part of our system. Our experts opine that the total number of teams at the national level must not be more than ten. It will not take a genius to work out in descending order what number of teams will be required at each tier to give everybody a chance to prove their mettle but only the best to rise to the top. There must only be two national tournaments each for the senior and under nineteen teams.

To make any such system successful one essential need is merit based selection at each level. This is not easy and requires constant monitoring at every significant level.

Finally the national tournaments must be given the highest priority by the Board. This is not done.

This article will attempt to describe some of the happenings at the highest level in our major tournaments to portray the serious shortcomings prevalent in our system.

The region wise division produces too many teams and the attempt to limit the impact of the associations on the regions is ineffective. There is no development of loyalty or following for each of the teams consequently matches appear to be meaningless and grounds empty of spectators. The view that cities playing each other increases interest has proven to be wrong.

The PCB budgets large sums for the organisation of the national tournaments which is badly spent due to insufficient auditing. The PCB pays a lump sum of money to the regions/associations based on TA/DA, Food and other expenses. The region in turn gives this to the managers. No attempt is made to standardize the quality of the food or ensure payment of the TA/DA.

The PCB gives funding to operate Regional Offices. In regions that have well organised association Offices like Karachi, an extra office is totally unnecessary. Even worse there is an instance of individuals employed in a private stadium now being charged to the PCB under the region head whilst continuing their old jobs.

Talking about recent appointments can one believe that one Tabassum Aftab is the coordinator for the women's wing cricket? I am advised it would be difficult to even consider him as a groundsman.

There is a clash in dates of tournaments. Tournament dates get changed regularly at the last minute. The PCB is unable to produce an annual calendar and adhere to it. Players go from team to team trying to participate in the National Trophy and the Under 19's Tournament. (Marouf Aziz and Anoup Ravi are examples). It is illogical for a person playing in a National Trophy, a stepping stone to Pakistan Team to continue to play in the Under-19's; further complicating the difficult task of ensuring that only players of the correct ages play in the junior tournaments. It is common knowledge and perception that even the PCB is aware of over age players participating in junior tournaments but is either unwilling or unable to prevent it. Locations of matches too are not allocated in advance,

Finally the system and efficacy of team selection is best described by the story of the 2009 under-16's colts tournament. In addition to the regional teams the NCA selected a Team from those that were not selected by the respective regions. Surprise, surprise they got to the finals of the tournament. Whilst there can be many spins put on this at face value it suggests very bad selections!

U18s face tough task

By Ghalib Bajwa

These days, the national junior hockey team management, after winning the Boys' U-18 Asia Cup late last month, is carving out a strenuous plan for the preparation of historic Youth Olympics.

The Pakistan boys created history when they defeated Malaysia 4-3 in a tense final of U-18 Asia Cup at Yangon, Myanmar and scooped a berth in the Youth Olympics. It is to be noted here that the U-18 Asia Cup was also a qualifying event for the inaugural Summer Youth Olympic Games which are scheduled to be staged in Singapore from August 14 to 26, 2010.

The Pakistan U18 squad remained unbeaten in the 12-day tournament ending a two-decade title drought at Asian level in the process. Pakistan's young side, who were underdogs prior to the event, had wonderful potential, will power and above all sheer belief in Allah, the Almighty and those were the ingredients that led Pakistan to Youth Asia Cup triumph.

By winning the title, Pakistan's young side offered their dejected countrymen a perfect Eid gift. It is worth-mentioning that for the last couple of years, our countrymen have been passing through some testing times and plunging into different crises and tensions like bloody terrorism, load-shedding and illogical and unabated price-hike etc.

Every member of the team had his role in this morale-boosting victory. Centre-half Muhammad Tauseeq was duly adjudged as Best Player of the Tournament. He was instrumental in Pakistan's several goal-scoring moves. At times, he left the opponent teams and fans astonished by his awesome dodging and passing skills. Skipper Syed Kashif Shah and his deputy Rana Omair also demonstrated wonderful form and played a key role in the title victory. Kashif proved to be a sensible captain -- keeping his boys under control at all times and exhibited his leadership skills by guiding his charges to the right direction.

Pakistan netted 27 goals (Tauseeq 5 goals, Arsalan Qadir, Javed Ali, Adnan 3 each, Mushtaq, Rana Omair, Bilal Qadir, Khurram Shahzad, Rizwan 2 each) in five matches and conceded only nine goals.

Former Olympian Khawaja Junaid, the head coach of national junior hockey team while talking to 'The News on Sunday' (TNS), expressed his determination to impart proper training to his young team ahead of elite Youth Olympic event.

While outlining his preparations plan, Junaid informed that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) has chalked up a hectic preparatory programme for the national junior side. "These days, though the boys are spending time with their families but they are undergoing regular light training as per our instructions. After December's rest period, our players are scheduled to take part in National Junior Hockey Championship in January 2010. We will also try to trace fresh hockey talent during the national junior event," Junaid, who played 275 internationals and grabbed 22 medals, told.

It is worth mentioning here that at the conclusion of U-18 Asia Cup, the Myanmar Hockey Federation, who were quite impressed with the coaching of Junaid, offered him a coaching role with their national hockey team but the former hockey stalwart turned down the offer saying that Pakistan comes first and deserves his services more.

To a query Junaid said: "In early next year, we are planning to have a tour of South Asian countries so that our boys could get more international exposure and experience ahead of grand Olympics showdown. Then in June, all regional teams will feature in National Junior Hockey League," he elaborated.

Junaid further said that in the final phase of our preparations, they are planning to undertake a tour to Europe just ahead of Singapore Olympics so that the boys get more confidence to demonstrate their potential in variable conditions.

Answering a question regarding the grey areas of his side, Junaid said that the weaknesses in the defence line and attacking have been noticed during the 9-Nation Asia Cup.

"By grooming youngsters as title winners actually we are preparing our team to such a level so that we can provide our senior side fully trained and suitable replacements whenever they need and that is our ultimate goal," he maintained.

Junaid, who was part of Pakistan's last World Cup winning team in 1994, informed that prior to the Youth Asia Cup event, Korea, Malaysia and India were the favourite teams but after Pakistan won their first two matches against Sri Lanka and India comfortably then the favourites tag swung to Pakistan's way.

ghalibmbajwa@hotmail.com

 

FIFA fiddles while football burns

By John Leicester

Talk about shooting the messenger. Football's guardians took the cowardly route with their double decision this week to a) set their police on Thierry Henry for his notorious hand ball and b) do absolutely nothing to prevent such cheating from spoiling the next World Cup.

Henry's famous fondle, a double hand ball that set up the goal that qualified France for next year's tournament, sent a message heard by everyone around the world except FIFA: Referees cannot keep track of everything in today's ultra-fast game and urgently need additional help ˇ- with urgently underlined.

The solution is not rocket science. Two extra match officials would do the trick ˇ- one stationed next to each goal to provide extra eyes on the area of the pitch where it is most needed.

Henry's hand ball almost certainly would have been spotted, Swedish referee Martin Hansson would have been spared the embarrassment of awarding the undeserved goal and Ireland ˇ not France ˇ- might have been booking tickets and hotels for South Africa had extra officials been at the Nov. 18 World Cup playoff.

Refereeing reinforcements have already been introduced to the Europa League, the Champions League's cousin, without the football world spinning off its axis. So how hard can this be?

Let's set up a committee to study it, commission reports, consult experts, basically fiddle while football burns. In short, do a FIFA. The governing body of world football is turning timidity into an art form. The fact that FIFA president Sepp Blatter himself recognizes that referees are currently being outgunned only makes its procrastination more unbearable.

"It's clear that the main match official and his assistants cannot see everything that happens on the field of play," Blatter said Wednesday after FIFA rejected the use of extra officials in South Africa. "Is it better to have more match officials or open the door to technology? We will have to evaluate this."

Blatter's argument that there is too little time between now and next June to introduce extra officials is lame. Are we really to believe that an organization as rich and powerful as FIFA couldn't round up three or four dozen additional people for the 64 matches that will be played next June and July? If world football is so desperately short of qualified officials then clearly FIFA hasn't been doing its job.

UEFA is employing two extra officials at all 144 matches in the group stage of the Europa League this season without having to press gang people off the street.

One of the stumbling blocks to innovation in football is the philosophy that any changes to the game's rules must be applicable worldwide, to all levels of football. That admirable principle of universality is worth defending if football is to remain a sport for all, as playable on a dusty field in Africa as on the billiard-green pitch at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

But it's also true that the stakes in World Cup games are far higher, with national prestige and well-being and mounds of money on the line. The fact that extra referees or video replays might not be available for amateur matches in a London park or a Brazilian shantytown shouldn't bar their introduction at the very top of football. To argue otherwise is akin to saying that doctors will no longer perform transplants because there aren't enough donated kidneys or hearts for all those who need them.

FIFA's dilly-dallying also does football the disservice of leaving room for growing calls for video replays. Video is not the answer because, unlike extra officials, it could never be applied across all or many levels of the game, it would most likely hold up play and, as Blatter rightly points out, would take away some of football's endearing human qualities.

It is said "with technology that all our problems would be over," notes Roy Hodgson, manager of Premier League side Fulham. "But it is not even as simple as that."

Given FIFA's indecision, its belated decision to open a disciplinary case against Henry for handling the ball looks like a diversionary tactic and misses the point entirely.

 

 

Athlete and the relaxed intensity

By Aamir Bilal

Usain Bolt nicknamed "Lightning Bolt" by his school fellows from William Knibb Memorial High School in Kingston Jamaica, took thirty three strides at the Berlin's Olympic Stadium in 12th IAAF World Championships to clock 9.58 seconds in the 100 meters dash, thus smashing his own record of 9.69 seconds, which was established in front of 90,000 electrified fans at the Bird's Nest, Beijing in the 2008 Olympic Games.

However, this was not enough for the chest pounding 6'-4" speed machine, as he yet eyed on the more difficult event of 200 meters thus creating another new world record by clocking 19.19 seconds on August 20 2009 in front of a capacity crowd in the same championship. When Bolt broke Michael Johnson's 12 years old record of 200 meter in Beijing Olympics by .02 seconds, the experts thought that this record would now stay for at least 15 more years, but Usain had other plans to accomplish, which he did in the 12th IAAF Championships.

Usain, who at the beginning of his career wanted to become a fast bowler, was threatened by a series of injuries and lack of interest in training. May experts had written Bolt off as another over paid, spoiled athlete until Bolt crossed the finished line of 200 m in 19.75 sec, breaking the Jamaican record set by the Olympic legend Donald Quarrie in Cali, Colombia in August 1971; 15 years before Bolt was even born.

While experts were counting the strides and pondering at the physical aspects of the legend, many eyes were looking for the answer of that strange calmness that Bolt has at his face when crossing the finishing line. They wanted to know how a small and developing country like Jamaica is producing Olympic and world champions like Bolt, Asafa Powel, Veronica Campbell, Melaine Walker and Shelly Ann Frazer since London games of 1948.

The answer was no surprise; it is the Jamaican education system which has paved the way for the Island's Olympic gold glory. Through its sports education programmes and dedicated teachers the Jamaicans are now reaping the benefits. The hilly terrain is a good practicing ground to develop the muscles of Jamaicans who have sickle cell trait and the yellow yam that has given them the explosive power and endurance to win the medals. Above all, Jamaica has one of the best organised track and field programmes in the world.

Although restrained by funding which Pakistan Athletic Federation should notice, the country still promotes track and field from as early as kindergarten. If you follow Jamaica's sport calendar, you will realize that there are always some sporting activities taking place all across the island geared at preparing the body and mind of the athletes.

Jamaicans have strong bodies yet they have their human limitations. It's the power of their mind that takes these superb athletes beyond the physical limits to repeat the excellent performance time and again with a sense of "relaxed intensity" which is visible at the face of champions.

Athletes like Usain bolt and Asafa Powel are highly focussed and calm athletes. Excellence flows naturally when they develop confidence in their focus and know that their focus can take them where ever they want to go. This consistent high level performance by Jamaican champions is achieved through "high quality focus" which is the outcome of commitment, mental readiness, positive images, confidence, distraction and ongoing learning that forms part of their daily routine.

The point to remember here is that relaxation and intensity are not necessarily opposite. They can work together in complementary ways to bring out the best in an athlete's performance. The athlete needs an optimal amount of intensity to perform his or her best, not too much and not too little. Bolt displays that optimal intensity along with relaxation, that takes him to that little comfort zone where super athletes free themselves to perform rather than forcing to perform.

This relaxed intensity or relaxed power push athletes limits and at the same time they are relaxed enough to free their body to perform in a powerful yet flowing way with enough adrenalin secreted by the pituitary glands. On some occasions, relaxing is more productive than being physically intense.

To relax, athletes use different techniques to ease different muscle groups. They use sport massage, breathing exercise, yoga, music, imagery techniques and warm baths. What ever may be the technique two outcomes are always initiated when effective relaxation is carried out. The first is psychological and the second is physiological. This gives athlete the harmony within themselves and the self belief to over come the obstacles.

Great athletes like Usain Bolt have great bodies and great minds. They under go strenuous training regimes with committed coaches and trainers. They have clear objectives to achieve and when they cross the finish line they are absolutely sure of their win, with a relaxed look at their face and gold in their pocket.

Pakistan had the golden days of its Athletic supremacy in Asia and Common Wealth Games in the decades of 50s and 60s. In 1954 Asian Games in Manila, Pakistan had 4 gold and 4 silver medals; Pakistan also won one gold medal, one silver medal and one bronze medal in 1954 commonwealth games in Vancouver Canada. Till 1968, Pakistan was an athletics force to reckon with. With a total of 40 medals in Asian and Commonwealth Games this period witnessed the greats of Khaliq, Raziq and Mubarak Shah. With exception of Muhammad Younis the legendary 1500 metre runner of the 70s at Asian level, there is no worth while achievement in athletics by Pakistan to mention at international level.

Athletics the mother of all sport is almost dead in Pakistan. We need to learn and learn fast from the countries like Jamaica and Kenya where funding is insufficient but programme is robust and above all athletics is managed by passionate office bearers with lively in put from the education institutions of the Island.

Pakistan has abundance of talent and terrain available for training. I am sure that athletes hailing from the hills of Kashmir, NWFP and Northern areas of Pakistan have all those physical traits in them that we are looking in the present world champions. Unfortunately most of the sports training camps are established in metropolitan cities like Karachi and Lahore where as ideal training grounds of Abbottabad and Sakardu are ignored for the reasons better known to worthy federations and sports boards.

The country has the potential to revive its athletics glory provided a high altitude training center is established on priority with modern training facilities, qualified coaches, physical trainers, and sports psychologists away from the hustle and bustle of over crowded cities where athletes and trainers can focus at their task and carry out their training with full commitment.

Aamir Bilal is a trained coach sdfsports@gmail.com

 

Davydenko proves there is more to tennis

than just Federer and Nadal

By Abdul Ahad Farshori

Two weeks ago, the talk of the town in London was the Federer-Nadal rivalry and their final stretch to reclaim the year end no 1 ranking. If it was not about the Swiss or the Spaniard it was about BritainÝs hope of a Grand Slam -- Andy Murray. Del Potro was also being mentioned here and there after he made waves by beating Federer in the final of the US Open ˝ the last Grand Slam of the year.

And if you'd ask any of the fans, who had bought one of the ticket of the 200,000 sold for the event, about how he feels about the chances of Nikolay Davydenko winning the year-end Tour Finals, the answer would have been "Nikolay, who?"

Last Sunday night proved to be a shock for all those filling in the O2 Arena and people watching, when the 28-year-old Russian stunned Juan Martin del Potro en-route to claiming the biggest title of his career and a prize purse of over a million dollars.

His journey started with a loss against Novak Djokovic in the first match of the round-robin stage. But the Russian seemed to overcome everything that was thrown at him after that match.

He defeated world no 2 Rafael Nadal in straight sets and then overtook Sweden's Robin Soderling to confirm his berth for the semifinals of the year-end tournament, which was being played in London for the first time, after being moved from Shanghai.

Davydenko entered the O2 Arena for the semifinal as an underdog as he was penciled in to play the world no 1 and the crowd favourite -- Roger Federer. Davydenko used that underdog status to his advantage and upset the books all over the world by toppling the Swiss superstar.

The ATP World Tour Finals as they are now known were previously labeled as the Masters Cup and before that simply the Masters.

Some of the participating players, who are always well-briefed before prize-giving ceremonies and unfailingly thank the tournament sponsors, the organisers, the line judges and the ball-boys, on this occasion repeatedly forgot the name of this high-profile event during TV interviews.

And we haven't even mentioned the bizarre scoring system in the round-robin when Del Potro didn't even know he'd reached the semifinals.

One thing is beyond doubt that after eight fabulous days of action at the ATP World Tour Finals, tennis has found a spectacular new venue at London's space-age O2 Arena.

In spite of a first defeat in 13 meetings with Davydenko in the semis, there is little doubt Federer has re-established himself in the lead role. He will head for the Australian Open in January as the world number one and favourite to add a 16th grand slam to his collection.

Question marks continue to hang over Nadal after a year dogged by injury and poor form will still be there when next season swings into action, whatever he achieves in the Davis Cup final this weekend against Czech Republic.

Nadal lost all three of his matches at the O2 without managing to win a set.

Serb Djokovic, who finished the season strongly, will be confident of overhauling Nadal as world number two early in the New Year.

Just behind him Britain's Andy Murray and Argentine Del Potro. Murray will be keen to fill the gap on his CV by claiming his maiden grand slam title.

Then there is world number six Davydenko. The balding Russian does not have the box-office appeal of the players above him in the rankings but at 28, the same age as Federer, he is playing the best tennis of his career and believes he can beat anybody.

It has taken a long time for the tennis world to warm to Davydenko, but at just 68 kilos he represents the ordinary little guy in the street, battling with the giants.

Making his fifth successive appearance in the year-end tournament, his best finish earlier than last Sunday triumph was a runner's up spot in the last year's event.

Already this year, he won the Shanghai Master and three other ATP tournaments -- Kuala Lumpur (Indoor/Hard), Umag (Outdoor/Clay),Hamburg (Outdoor/Clay).

Oh, and if you thought the mammoth tennis calendar was really over, we have the Davis Cup final. Then the season starts again in January.

 

King Fed reclaims his crown

By Hasan Junaid Iqbal

Roger Federer has struggled back to reclaim the number one title, he owned for several years, by defeating Britain's Andy Murray in the finals of the ATP World Tour in London.

At the end of 2008, Federer was ousted by young Rafael Nadal, who seemed nearly invincible during the season -- even taking out Federer in one of the most memorable Wimbledon finals in history.

He has already taken Sampras' record for most career Grand Slam championships, and now hopes to hold the No 1 spot at the end of the season for a sixth year.

By finishing No 1 for a fifth year, he becomes one of only three other players who have accomplished this feat. He's tied with Jimmy Connors with five apiece.

"It means a lot to have returned to No 1 and to finish the year again at No 1," Federer said after accepting a trophy on court at the ATP World Tour Finals. "It was an incredible year for me both on the court and off the court and to be able to break the all-time Grand Slam record and finish the year on top is amazing."

But on the other hand the quest over Rafael Nadal's injury and falling back to back, is burning up since he has struggled with injuries since his stunning exit in the fourth round of the Roland Garros French Open back in June this year.

Will Rafa soar back in the field of tennis again...?

Rafa is tired and bemused at the never ending schedule of Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

"It's now impossible to be playing like I did the last five years, playing a lot of matches and being all the time 100 percent without problems. I've been number one or two on the number of matches played. I was OK but sooner or later, it will be impossible," he said.

It's a punishing timeframe and allows very little space for rest and relaxation. Nadal has been on the treadmill, right at the top of the game, for many years now and it's starting to take its toll. His high intensity game has led to several major injuries and serious fears for his longevity as a player.

The Spaniard is still satisfied with his performances and constantly reminds the media that there is no substitute for constant and consistent match play.

Andy Roddick of the US followed Nadal about the time-tables because he was too -- the victim of this gruelling scenario when he was being forced out from his opening match at Shanghai Open.

Roddick said that the ATP could be heading for a clash with worn-out top players if something did not change in an 11-month calendar.

"It's ridiculous to think you have a professional sport that doesn't have a legitimate off-season to rest, get healthy, and then train," said the three-time Wimbledon finalist.

"We're finished -- what is it -- November 30 after the season-ending World Tour Finals in London, and have to be pretty much Grand Slam ready by January 4, year after year after year.

"It's tough to compete 11 months a year, and this is going on my 10th year now. We've tried to make our voice heard for a long time. And we end up finishing a little bit later now (in 2009)," he added.

Roddick said that although top players were generally in agreement about an excess of tennis, only dire circumstances would warrant any type of industrial action.

"That is the last thing that anyone wants to do, but, you get pushed against the wall," he said.

"I don't think any of us wants to do that, because even more so than feeling a responsibility to the powers that be in tennis, we feel a responsibility to the fans.

"The last thing we want to do is cause something, let's say, at the year-end championships where, if you bag that, it's the ATP tour's biggest moneymaker."

"I don't think it's coincidental that Murray and Roger are a little bit hurt now or Rafa missed four months in the middle of the year because of the knee and abdominal injuries," he added.

Although the Sweden's Robin Soderling is on back to back winning streaks, first he defeated Nadal and then ousted No 3 seed Serbia's Novak Djokovic at World Tour Finals in London.

Soderling could have had an easier day. He had three set points on the Serb's serve in the first set, leading 5-4 before he allowed Djokovic to come back and win the game. The set went to a tiebreaker, which Soderling was leading 6-4 when he hit a forehand return long. He hit an ace, one of 10 for the match, to take the set. He broke Djokovic early in the second set and cruised to victory.

"I didn't enjoy playing today's match, that's for sure," Djokovic said. "He was serving really well. All credit to him."

Djokovic, the defending champion, said he was fatigued after going to three sets to beat Nikolay Davydenko in his first match. Soderling was added to the tournament when Andy Roddick's bad knee forced him to pull out.

"He has nothing to lose," Djokovic said about Soderling. "He won four straight sets, and absolutely deserved to qualify for the semifinals. He's the best player so far in the tournament."

Soderling said: "I won two matches in straight sets against the world number two and number three. I couldn't have asked for anything more.

"So far I'm enjoying it a lot. But there's still at least two more matches to go. I hope to do really well in those two, as well.

"I will focus on my next match before the semis. Then I have to win two more matches against great players (to win the tournament)."



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