The court resembles a climb when Jarkko Nieminen sees Roger Federer across the net. Nieminen's history with the Swiss great rivals Sisyphus' record against the rock: Federer took the court with a 12-0 record against the Finn, winning 24 of their prior 25 sets.
Nieminen took the fight to Federer at times today, but the top seed turned up his aggression at crunch time, scoring a 7-5, 7-6 (2) sweep in 90 minutes to reach the Rotterdam semifinals.
Though Federer was sharp on serve—he hit eight aces, didn't face a break point and won 15 straight points on serve to start the second set—it wasn't exactly a classic performance. He misfired on a few down-the-line forehands, slapped a smash into net from point-blank range that would make most hackers cringe, and at one point saw Nieminen nail three consecutive return winners off his second serve. But Federer played with more energy, urgency, and aggression than he showed in a sometime emotionally-disengaged Davis Cup loss to John Isner on the choppy red clay of Fribourg last Friday, and did what was necessary in stopping the scrappy left-hander.
Neither man threatened the other's serve for much of the first set. Federer blocked a backhand volley winner, navigating the first deuce game of the match to hold for 5-5. When Nieminen raked a forehand winner down the line for a 40-0 lead in the next game, a tiebreaker appeared inevitable. Federer had other ideas. Angling off a backhand winner, soaring for a smash, and dancing around his backhand to rifle a forehand return winner, Federer drew even at deuce. Nieminen fought off two break points, but netted his best shot, the down-the-line backhand, to face a third. Stepping closer to the baseline, Federer turned on a short-angled, cross-court, forehand winner, breaking for 6-5. Playing one of his most ambitious service games of the match, Federer held at 15 to seal the opener in 42 minutes.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion was much more active with his feet than he was in a disappointing Davis Cup weekend. Federer, who had a walkover win over Mikhail Youzhny in the prior round, spent much of the match dancing on his toes eager to pounce on any mid-court shot he got. Nieminen knew he had to red-line his game to have any hope of taking a set, and his willingness to take rips with his forehand, a shot that can sometimes land short, helped him erase two break points in the seventh game and another in the ninth to hold for 5-4 in the second set.
Lifting his level in the breaker, Federer slid a slice ace wide, followed with a backhand volley winner and a forehand winner in building a 5-1 lead. Federer is 34-1 in his last 35 ATP indoor matches.
Federer will contest his seventh straight semifinal against either fifth-seeded Richard Gasquet or Nikolay Davydenko, two players he has dominated, with a potential final looming against either Juan Martin del Potro or Tomas Berdych.