Federer falls to Escude, Henman in semifinal
Defending champion Nicolas Escude dumped Roger Federer out of the World Indoor Tournament on Friday, while Tim Henman booked a third semifinal place in four years after beating Bohdan Ulihrach.
In a repeat of last year's final, Escude edged out seventh seed Swiss Federer 3-6 7-6 7-5 to stay on course for a second successive title, while Britain's Henman defeated Czech Ulihrach 7-5 6-3 to meet Croatian Ivan Ljubicic in the semifinal.
Escude's quarter-final victory ensures that a French player will reach Sunday's final, as the last quarter-final in the same half of the draw is between Davis Cup team mates Arnaud Clement and Sebastien Grosjean.
"There is going to be a French guy in the final which is good," said the 25-year-old Escude.
"We won the Davis Cup last year and that has been good for the French players and French team."
Federer kept the unseeded Escude under constant pressure in the opening set, breaking in the fifth and ninth games with an array of scintillating returns.
But the Frenchman, finalist in Marseille last week, kept pace with Federer to take the second set into a tiebreak.
With both players going for their shots, there were several mini breaks before Escude levelled the match by clinching the tiebreak 10-8 on his fourth set point.
Serving to stay in the match at 6-5 down in the third set, world number 13 Federer cracked under pressure to go 40-0 down and a backhand winner completed Escude's victory on his first matchpoint.
Henman, Rotterdam runner-up in 1999 and 2000, had to work hard to achieve victory after abandoning his trademark serve and volley game.
The sixth seed meets the big-serving Croatian, who knocked out Ivo Heuberger of Switzerland 6-3 3-6 6-3, for a place in the final.
Although Henman had said he would be unable to defeat Ulihrach from the baseline, the British number one seemed reluctant to venture to the net during the first set.
After an exchange of breaks midway through the set, Henman squandered three set-points at 6-5 up on the Czech's serve before clinching it on his fourth attempt thanks to an Ulihrach double fault.
The three times Wimbledon semifinalist started the second set sluggishly and was broken in the second game following three forehand errors.
But he immediately piled on the pressure to break Ulihrach's next two service games, forcing the Czech to float a forehand wide to achieve the second break.
"You've got to try and get the balance right. I know the more and more I stand on the baseline the more it favours someone like Ulihrach," the 27-year-old said.
"He's not the easiest guy to play against because he's very aggressive from the baseline. But I was still mixing it up."
World number 129 Heuberger, playing in his first ATP quarter-finals, failed to negotiate Ljubicic's powerful deliveries in the final set of their encounter, despite knocking out Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic in the first round.
After an early exchange of breaks, 22-year-old Ljubicic stung his opponent, the last qualifier left in the draw, with a string of lightning service returns in the eighth game to secure the crucial break.
"I'm certainly serving pretty well," said Ljubicic, who beat second seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Thursday.
"After a good win (against Kafelnikov), when you get an easier match it's not easy to motivate yourself.
"You think 'how difficult can he be after a guy like Kafelnikov.'"