INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA // Roger Federer and Andy Murray each took a step closer to a possible semi-final showdown with relatively routine third round victories yesterday at the BNP Paribas Open. Federer, a three-time Indian Wells winner and ranked No 2 in the world, downed Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. Playing his first event since withdrawing from the Dubai tournament and the first round of Davis Cup because of back problems, Federer came up with big shots when needed against Karlovic.
Despite the victory, Federer said he was still unsure if his game was coming together. "It's tough to say. I don't think I've had an awful lot of rhythm in my last two matches. Even in my first match, there was quite a bit of serving going on," he said. "I don't think I've had to face break point yet in the first two matches, so that's a good thing. That kind of keeps you a bit relaxed. I'm seeing the ball OK. My baseline game, I can't really judge it."
Down 3-1 in the tiebreaker, the Swiss star evened it with points on a volley past Karlovic, then a low, hard forehand that the Croatian could not reach. Karlovic, ranked 28th, then made a series of unforced errors, including hitting a forehand long for the final point of the tiebreaker. Federer looked considerably sharper in the second set, reeling off the hard, accurate groundstrokes that made him the world's top player for so long.
The 21-year-old Murray, the world No 4, overpowered Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-3, 6-2. Murray served six aces, won 21 of 25 first-serve points and jumped on his French opponent's second serve to take 17 of 24 points. "I served big when I needed to and moved very well again," Murray said. "Bar a couple of games where I lost my concentration a little bit, it was a very solid match." Asked whether he believes Federer can climb back to the world No 1 summit, Murray said: "Yeah, no question he can. I just don't think he's going to be dominating the sport like he did when he clearly was No 1 by a long way. "I think he's going to lose more matches than he did before just because the standard of tennis has gotten better. "And the reason tennis has gotten better is thanks to him setting the bar so high. Guys have tried to reach his level and a few of us have."
Fernando Gonzalez of Chile made quick work of James Blake, needing only an hour and five minutes to beat the American 7-5, 6-1. Blake made 35 unforced errors, 11 more than Gonzalez. The defending women's champion Ana Ivanovic, also last year's French Open winner who spent some three months at the top of the women's rankings, defeated Gisela Dulko 6-3, 6-3 in their third round match. Daniela Hantuchova, the 2002 and 2007 champion, also advanced, outlasting Petra Cetkovska 7-5, 7-5 in their night match. *AP