Vulnerable might be too strong a word, but evidence suggested Roger Federer once was only one level removed from that dreaded condition.
It was there in the home of Ivan Ljubicic in Monte Carlo, on a videotape of a match between Federer and Ljubicic here at Indian Wells last year.
Right tape, wrong time of day.
Thursday afternoon, the top-seeded Federer needed 67 minutes against No. 6 Ljubicic, winning, 6-2, 6-3, in the quarterfinals of the Pacific Life Open. It was quite unlike their fourth-round meeting last year under the lights when Federer needed two tiebreakers to move on.
The difference? The sunny day session didn't serve Ljubicic's serve as well, as he was limited to four aces. Of course, Federer was so good, he was stifling.
Ljubicic, who is now 3-9 in their rivalry, was asked whether this was the best Federer had played against him.
"I would really like to hear what he's going to say about the match because my feeling is definitely that it is," he said.
Said Federer: "This was an excellent match for me -- maybe the best of the season."
Considering his usual exacting standards, that says something. Federer is 20-1 in 2006, with titles at the Australian Open and Doha, Qatar. Thursday, he broke serve in the second game and led, 4-1, within 14 minutes.
Federer will play Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand in a semifinal Saturday and is two matches from winning his third title here. Srichaphan outlasted Jarkko Nieminen in the late match Thursday night, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 7-5. The match lasted 2 hours 41 minutes.
"I've had some good matches this year, too, but this was against a top quality player," Federer said. "Really, I thought everything I wanted to work really worked. I also had a great feeling out there. You don't always get that, even though maybe if you win, 6-4, 6-2, you walk off the court, you feel like the opponent maybe gave it to you a little bit."
Ljubicic took a great leap forward in 2005, reaching eight finals, winning two titles and leading Croatia to its first Davis Cup championship. And he has continued that form this year, winning one title. He had started the season with a career-best 20-2 record before losing to Federer Thursday.
Still, he acknowledged the gap between Federer and nearly everyone else.
"I really consider myself a top-five player in the world," Ljubicic said. "Which doesn't mean I am close to Roger. I think he's really much better than I am, and then probably anyone else. The only player who can give him some trouble at the moment, it's Rafael Nadal. But I think just because he's lefty, nothing else."
Earlier, No. 4 Elena Dementieva of Russia joined No. 3 Maria Sharapova of Russia and wild card Martina Hingis in today's semifinals. Dementieva defeated 18-year-old Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, in the quarterfinals and will next play top-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, who continued her domination here with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Gisela Dulko of Argentina.
Henin-Hardenne, who won here in 2004 without losing a set, then was injured and didn't play this event last year, ran her straight-set streak here to 10-0. She had never played the 21-year-old Dulko before and said, "It was a strange match. Not a lot of rallies, not a lot of rhythm."
She said her match against Dementieva will bring no surprises, since the two have played often.
"I call it 50-50," Henin-Hardenne said. "Even if she is double faulting, she is so strong on the baseline that I will have to make her work hard."
The evening match marked the third quarterfinal in a women's Tier I tournament for Dulko. Her first was at Indian Wells in 2004.
Dementieva, who double-faulted 14 times, often went for a big serve on her second delivery and explained the rationale.
"I don't like it when people attack me from my second serve, so I'm just trying to hit the ball," she said. "My second serve, people can go for the winner, and I just don't want this."
Serena Williams' comeback from her latest layoff will be delayed.
Williams, who hasn't played since losing in the third round of the Australian Open in January, withdrew from the Nasdaq-100 Open, which begins next week in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Williams has been hampered by left ankle and knee problems for months and has played 31 matches since the beginning of 2005.
\o7Staff writer Bill Dwyre and the Associated Press contributed to this report.