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`Lucky` Federer survives five-set thriller

Melbourne: Reigning champion Roger Federer
was taken to five gripping sets by French nemesis Gilles Simon
on Wednesday before scraping into the Australian Open`s third round.

The world number two, defending his only remaining Grand
Slam crown, was pegged back from two sets up before scoring
his first-ever win over Simon, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, to
stay on course for his fifth Open title.

It was a desperately close call for the 29-year-old, who
holds a record 16 Grand Slam titles and only narrowly avoided
his worst performance at a major in eight years, and his
poorest ever Australian Open outing.

"Today I got lucky to go through," a relieved Federer
said.

"He`s a great player. Matches against him don`t come easy
and they always go the distance. Hopefully I won`t play him
anymore!" he laughed.

Federer had lost both his previous matches in 2008 with
Simon, who remains one of only three active players -- along
with Rafael Nadal and Britain`s Andy Murray -- with a winning
record against the all-time Grand Slam record-holder.

The Swiss was powerless against Simon`s laser-guided
groundstrokes in the third and fourth sets but recovered to
find the crucial break with his famous forehand and aced the
fifth match point after huge tension at Rod Laver Arena.

Federer is bidding to become only the second man to win
five Australian Opens after six-time champion Roy Emerson, and
thwart arch-rival Nadal`s bid to unite all four Grand Slam
titles for the first time in 42 years.

Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic also had difficulties
in his ethnically- charged clash with Croatia`s Ivan Dodig.
Djokovic, who won his only major title here in 2008, let slip
a set before winning 7-5, 6-7 (8/10), 6-0, 6-2.

The match was played under a heavy security presence but
there was no repeat of violence between ethnic Serbian and
Croatian fans which has repeatedly hit the season`s first
Grand Slam.

Earlier Venus Williams bravely battled through a painful
muscle strain to reach the third round, women`s top seed
Caroline Wozniacki finally hit form and Spain`s Fernando
Verdasco survived another five-set thriller.

Injury-hit Williams` first tournament since the US Open
looked to have ended in disaster as she screamed and clutched
herself in pain when losing the first set`s decisive point
against Czech Sandra Zahlavova.

The 30-year-old limped off for treatment and looked
uncomfortable when she returned with her right thigh strapped.
But the seven-time Grand Slam winner was quickly in the points
and saw Zahlavova off 6-7 (6/8), 6-0, 6-4.

"I don`t know what happened," Williams said of her
amazing recovery. "I started going for my shots and she wasn`t
as composed as before -- you have to able to play under all
circumstances."

French Open champion Francesca Schiavone needed a 16-game
third set before seeing off Canada`s Rebecca Marino 6-3, 5-7,
9-7, while Russian glamour girl Maria Sharapova beat France`s
Virginie Razzano.

Meanwhile Verdasco, on the losing end of the Australian
Open`s longest-ever match two years ago, prevailed in five
sets against Serbia`s Janko Tipsarevic 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6
(7/0), 6-0.

The encounter clocked in at just under four hours,
recalling his record 5hr 14min epic against Rafael Nadal in
the 2009 semi-finals.

Elsewhere America`s Andy Roddick, 28, downed Igor
Kunitsyn of Russia 7-6 (9/7), 6-2, 6-3 and Czech sixth seed
Tomas Berdych beat Germany`s Philipp Kohlschreiber in four.

Denmark`s Wozniacki, 20, shook off a troubled start to
the year with a 6-1, 6-0 demolition of America`s Vania King,
burying 23 winners to reach the third round and join a list of
impressive women`s winners.

Belgium`s Justine Henin won 6-1, 6-3 against Briton Elena
Baltacha and Russia`s Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Arantxa Rus
6-1, 6-4. Yesterday, favourite Kim Clijsters had humiliated
former finalist Dinara Safina 6-0, 6-0.=

Bureau Report

From Zee News

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