World No. 2 Roger Federer needed everything in his arsenal to defeat a player be had never beaten in two career meetings entering play Wednesday at the 2011 Australian Open.
Up two sets to love on Frenchman Gilles Simon, Federer found himself unable to close the match against the Frenchman, who just kept hanging around until the Swiss finally finished with a flourish after five sets 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.
Federer was brilliantly aggressive over the first two sets, running to a 6-2, 4-1 lead before assuming a 2-0 set posture. In the third set the momentum immediately shifted to Simon, who broke twice for a 3-0 lead before closing out the set 6-4, then breaking late in the fourth to even the match at two sets apiece. In the fifth Federer leapt in the air with pumped fists upon breaking Simon in the sixth game, and eventually serving it out at 5-3 after the Frenchman saved three match points in his previous service game.
“Every time we played we go the distance, so hopefully we don’t play each other any more,” Federer joked. “It showed what a great mover, return player he is. I wasn’t playing poorly either to lose the third and fourth set, I really think Gilles took it to me, but you remain positive, I worked hard my entire life, I’m happy I won and I’m still in the tournament.”
Federer next faces Xavier “X-Man” Malisse in the third round after the Belgian upset No. 25 seed Al Montanes, dropping only five games with a middle-set bagel.
Other seeded upsets Wednesday were Spaniard Tommy Robredo over No. 16 Mardy Fish in four after losing the first 6-1, and Dutchman Robin Haase defeating No. 24 Juan Monaco in four.
No. 8 Andy Roddick was the only Top 10 seed who had an easy time of it Wednesday, defeating Russian Igor Kunitsyn in straights. No. 3 Novak Djokovic needed four sets to beat Croat Ivan Dodig, No. 6 Tomas Berdych needed four to subdue German Philipp Kohlschreiber, and No. 9 Fernando “Hot Sauce” Verdasco was pushed to the limit by Serb Janko Tipsarevic, winning 6-0 in the fifth.
“It’s important, no, for yourself to get confidence, to see that you are good physically and mentally,” Hot Sauce said. “So it was of course very important win after coming again two sets to love down, and also saving the match point in the fourth set. So I think it’s very positive for me.”
Djokovic next faces his Davis Cup teammate and No. 29 seed Viktor Troicki, who defeated Nicolas Mahut in four sets.
“Anytime I have a look at the last couple of points of Viktor’s [Davis Cup-clinching match last year],” Djokovic said, “the last backhand winner, the celebrations that we had, the shaving heads, all these kind of things, it just brings the smiles and goosebumps. It’s probably the best feeling I ever had in my life as a tennis player.”
Other seeds advancing were No. 12 Gael Monfils, No. 14 Nicolas Almagro in five over Russian Igor Andreev, No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic, No. 19 Stan Wawrinka, and No. 28 Richard Gasquet.
Kei Nishikori was an unseeded winner, defeating the Davydenko-killer Florian Mayer in four sets.
“We started December. It’s on and off actually,” said Nishikori of his part-time work with coach Brad Gilbert. “For this week he has to do ESPN. But we talk together every day about matches. He mentioned some things to change my tennis little bit. And everything, it’s going well now. More steady on the court and get more percentage for my serve, especially first serve.”
Highlights on Thursday in Melbourne come fast and furious, featuring (1) Rafael Nadal vs. American upstart Ryan Sweeting, Juan Martin Del Potro vs. (21) Marcos Baghdatis, Aussie Bernard Tomic vs. (31) Feliciano “F-Lo” Lopez, (4) Robin Soderling vs. Gilles Muller, “Iron Mike” Russell vs. (7) David Ferrer, (20) John Isner vs. Radek “The Worm” Stepanek, and (27) David Nalbandian vs. former world No. 1 junior Richard Berankis.
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