Nadal Rallies and Is on Path to a Meeting With Federer

That sweaty but happy contestant skipping across the court in the neon yellow shirt Sunday was Rafael Nadal, no longer No. 1 but waving his index finger anyway after a third-round victory at the Sony Ericsson Open.

Nadal, who last won a tournament 10 months ago, showed some of his old championship swagger by rallying past the dangerous wild card David Nalbandian, 6-7 (8), 6-2, 6-2.
Nadal, seeded fourth, remained on course for a showdown against the real No. 1, his rival Roger Federer. They have not met since May in Madrid, but their paths to the final became easier when No. 2 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray lost their opening matches.

As the set entered its second hour, Nadal endured several wobbly moments, most notably when he double-faulted with a serve that missed by six feet. That made the score 5-5 in the tie breaker. Nadal regrouped to reach set point, then let it slip away and lost the final three points of the set.

But after dropping serve early in the match when he double-faulted on break point, Nadal held his final 11 service games. Nalbandian began pressing to finish rallies, losing two in a row when he tried drop shots, and his errors mounted.

Nadal, hampered by knee trouble in recent months, has gone without a title in his past 12 tournaments. But he reached the semifinals at Indian Wells this month before losing to Ivan Ljubicic, and now he is trying to win his first title at Key Biscayne, where he was runner-up in 2005 and 2008.

The unseeded Henin, mounting a comeback after a 20-month retirement, beat No. 26 Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4, 6-4. Clijsters, seeded 14th, needed only 51 minutes to beat No. 17 Shahar Peer, 6-0, 6-1.

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