x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Champion fighting to retain title

His strokes awry, his emotions laid bare for all to see, Roger Federer figures out a way to stay in the US Open.

The normally calm Swiss master Roger Federer let his emotions show more than usual against Russia's Igor Andreev.
The normally calm Swiss master Roger Federer let his emotions show more than usual against Russia's Igor Andreev.

Roger Federer is not going to allow his lengthy hold on the US Open to be broken without a heck of a fight. As at Wimbledon, the four times champion of Flushing Meadows called on all of his reserves of skill and stamina to stave off the first serious threat to his title. That challenge came from the unexpected frame of Russia's Igor Andreev who took the opening set from the defending champion and held seven break points against the Swiss early in the second set before an unconvincing Federer reacted to the danger. Federer, who recently surrendered his world No 1 ranking to the marauding Spaniard Rafael Nadal who has defeated him the finals of the last two grand slams, showed the type of frailty that has led to his recent decline as he notched up an embarrassing total of 60 unforced errors in what turned into a five-set thriller. Stepping up a gear when it mattered in the manner of a man who has amassed 12 grand slams and 43 other ATP tour titles, Federer was relieved to squeeze through 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 into what, on paper, should be a less demanding quarter-final against Gilles Muller. Muller, the world No 130 from Luxembourg, looks like he has done Federer a huge favour by eliminating the world No 5 Nikolay Davydenko, of Russia. Muller, a qualifier, held his nerve when it mattered most to take a 22-point tie breaker at the end of the fourth set to seal a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 passage. Federer will take note, however, that the serve-and-volleying Muller sent down 20 aces against a bemused Davydenko and has nothing to lose in what will be his first grand slam quarter-final. The Swiss knows how close he came to allowing Andreev into that last-eight encounter and was grateful that his opponent converted only two of the 15 break points in their fluctuating encounter. Federer, who lost his Wimbledon title in an epic five-setter against Nadal, claimed it was fun to experience the rarity of going the maximum distance at New York's main show court. "I don't remember if I ever played an entire five‑set match on Centre Court here," he said. "I remember playing Andre [Agassi] in five sets, but that was over two days. "Other than that, I don't remember that many. "I haven't given myself the opportunity that much because [in the past] I have always won easily." He is not expecting an easy match against Muller. "He is on an unbelievable roll," he remarked. "Maybe he should never have been in the quarters because he could have been knocked out in straight sets by Tommy [Haas]. "It just shows what you can achieve if you believe in yourself. I heard he couldn't win matches anymore, not even in challengers, and now he's the in quarters in the US Open. "He has played the greatest matches of his life here. That's why I definitely won't underestimate him because he's a good player. Of his match with Andreev, Federer said: "He was playing well. He broke me so easily at the beginning and I was struggling to get in a groove from the baseline. "The second set was key for me to get back in the match. I served well but it was a tough match." wjohnson@thenational.ae