Doha:Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal look set to renew their rivalry in the ATP's season-opening tournament after reaching the Qatar Open semifinals on Thursday.
The world's top two players haven't met since May in the Madrid Open final, but from the beginning of the Doha tournament they have looked headed to a showdown in the final.
The pair is preparing for the Australian Open, where they met in the final last year and Nadal prevailed.
On Thursday, Federer was pushed to three sets for the first time in overcoming Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, while Nadal passed the Doha quarterfinals for the first time in three attempts when Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis retired with a back problem while trailing 6-1, 2-0.
In the semis, Federer will play third-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, who outlasted seventh-seeded Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7). Nadal will face fifth-seeded Viktor Troicki of Serbia, who beat Lukasz Kubot of Poland 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1).
"I am playing well," Nadal said. "There was more confirmation that I am hitting the ball well. I started well and served good. I am in the semifinals without losing a set. I am happy with that."
Seeking his third Doha title, Federer broke Gulbis twice to take the first set with ease, but then hit two shots long in the 10th game of the second to extend the quarterfinal.
The players traded breaks to make it 3-3 in the third, but Federer capitalized on Gulbis' errors in the 10th game to seal the win.
The 90th-ranked Gulbis hit 13 aces _ seven in the second set _ and did enough to impress Federer in their first meeting.
"I know that Gulbis is the player with the most potential right now," Federer said. "Unfortunately, he doesn't have the ranking he deserves. I took him very seriously. I wasn't surprised by how he played today."