Roger Federer asked for treatment at the start of his third set against Ivan Ljubicic, and a collective groan echoed around the Qi Zhong Stadium in Shanghai.

The injury-marred Tennis Masters Cup couldn't withstand the loss of another of its stars.

Top-ranked Federer, the two-time defending champion, got a quick rub on his right leg from a physiotherapist, then held off Ljubicic, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), yesterday to secure a spot in the semifinals.

"I was never in doubt I was going to finish that match -- maybe people in the stadium were," Federer said. He asked for treatment as a precaution "for my well-being."

Playing with a heavy, black brace on his right ankle, Federer extended his winning streak to 33 matches and improved to 79-3 this year, three shy of John McEnroe's Open era record (82-3) for winning percentage in a season.

Federer beat David Nalbandian on Sunday in his first match back since injuring his ankle in practice in early October. With a third consecutive unbeaten run at the Masters Cup, the 24-year-old Swiss star can equal McEnroe's mark here.

Chinese organizers took a swipe at Andre Agassi yesterday because he didn't notify them before announcing he was quitting Monday with foot and ankle injuries. Agassi also retired after losing two matches at the 2002 Masters Cup.

But Federer defended the 35-year-old American who had not played since losing to him in the U.S. Open final in September.

"I don't know how bad it really was -- only he can tell," Federer said. "But I think it's still great that he shows up and tries."

-- From News Services