SYDNEY, Australia - Novak Djokovic missed another chance to move to a career-high No. 2 ranking when he lost his Sydney International semifinal Friday to Finland's Jarkko Nieminen.
The 21-year-old Serbian needed to reach the final to surpass 13-time Grand Slam singles champion Roger Federer when the next rankings are released before the Australian Open.
But Nieminen beat the defending Australian Open champion 6-4, 7-6 (3) and next faces Argentina's David Nalbandian, who reached his 20th ATP Tour final with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet.
The 27-year-old Nalbandian, who has nine Tour titles and was runner-up at Wimbledon in 2002, overpowered Gasquet with backhand winners and by attacking the Frenchman's second serve.
Nalbandian won nine straight points to close the first set and open a break in the second.
Gasquet broke back in the sixth game of the second set, helped by a between-the-legs shot from behind the baseline that he turned into a winner. Even Nalbandian applauded the shot.
But the comeback didn't last. Nalbandian broke again to take a 4-3 lead and, after wasting three match points from 0-40 on Gasquet's serve in the ninth game, he converted on his fourth.
Gasquet didn't help himself, giving Nalbandian triple match point with a double-fault and a fourth match point with another.
''Every day, I feel more feeling on the ball and on the game, so it's good playing a few matches and to be in the finals here,'' Nalbandian said. ''I have to keep going and believing in my game and try to do a good match tomorrow.''
Djokovic had chances last year to move to second place when Rafael Nadal was in that position. He also had a shot last week in Brisbane - if he'd performed well and Federer slumped in Doha - but the Serbian lost his first match.
Djokovic, who got a wild-card entry for Sydney, was drawn earlier Friday into the same side as Federer for the season's first major, and in the same quarter as Nalbandian.
Djokovic upset then top-ranked Federer in the Australian Open semifinals last year.
The all-Russian women's final later Friday will be a reprise of the Beijing Olympics final, with gold medalist Elena Dementieva against silver medalist Dinara Safina.
Dementieva beat top-seeded Serena Williams 6-3, 6-1 on Thursday.