Roger, he's not out

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

The stench of upset swirled around the Rexall Centre last night as Roger Federer took time out to adjust his trademark white headband.

Could it be that the Superman of the tennis world actually was sweating under the pressure?

Belgium's Xavier Malisse, ranked 41st in the world, had just stretched the sport's elite player to a pair of tiebreaks, dropping the first 6-7 (4) before rebounding to even the match 7-6 (5), all the while exposing the odd wart in Federer's game.

To his credit, the 2004 Rogers Cup champion would rebound to win the final set by a 6-3 count, propelling him into the semi-final today and running his streak of consecutive victories on North American soil to 52.

But in struggling at times en route to his victory, Federer inadvertently provided hope -- false hope, perhaps, but hope nonetheless -- to his fellow competitors.

Maybe, just maybe, this will not be the slam dunk everyone is predicting.

Maybe Federer could still be derailed in his march to the 2006 Rogers Cup title.

Impossible? No.

Unlikely? Yes.

"Sure it's possible," an exhausted Malisse said afterward. "But you have to be 100% on your game.

"You have to show him respect. But you also have to believe you can beat him."

Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, the tournament's No. 15 seed, is up next for Federer in one of today's semi-finals. Gonzalez, a 6-1, 7-5 winner over Argentina's Jose Acasuso last night, may be one of the more energetic competitors in the tournament, but he has yet to beat Federer in six previous tries.

The other semi features a pair of young guns, Scotland's Andy Murray, 19, and France's Richard Gasquet, 20.

Gasquet knows the sweet taste of victory that comes with defeating the world's No. 1, having upset Federer in Monte Carlo in 2005.

"I'm sure I'm playing better than in Monte Carlo last year," said Gasquet, who disposed of Czech Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-1 earlier in the day to reach the Final Four.

Gasquet had better not look past Murray to tomorrow's final. The young Scot is not a player to be taken lightly.

Under the tutelage of coach Brad Gilbert, Murray has been one of the feel-good stories of the tournament. Despite being overshadowed by Federer and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the teenager, who made the final in Washington last Sunday, has shown remarkable poise during his march to the semi-finals.

Yes, he was pushed to the limits in his quarter-final match against Finland's Jarkko Nieminen yesterday. But in the end he held on to post a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 victory and a date with Gasquet.

"I'm going to have to play my best match of the tournament if I want to win against (Gasquet)," Murray said. "But I feel like I have a good chance."

Federer feels that way every time he steps on to the court.

"Maybe the (other) guys who are left in the tournament are not ranked in the top five but they are still good players," Federer said.

But good enough to beat him?

The odds are against it.\


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