Sunday, September 04, 2005

Federer Holds Off Rochus

In his second consecutive night match at Arthur Ashe Stadium, world number one Roger Federer held off pal Olivier Rochus in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2 to advance to a Round of 16 match-up with German Nicolas Kiefer.

Though he won in three, Federer wasn't sharp for the second straight match and challenged by the likeable but smallish Rochus. After dropping a quick 24 minute first set, the 24-year-old from Belgium hustled all over the court in the second to make it a contest. His penchant for keeping rallies alive got tons of support from fans who were hoping for a competitive match.

Despite being just five foot five, the scrappy Rochus made Federer work hard in the second set, even giving him something to think about breaking early on. But Federer returned the favor. The rest of the set was a battle of wills as Rochus matched Federer shot for shot even getting another break chance that would have put him two games from the set. But the Swiss number one fought it off. Getting some break opportunities of his own, Federer couldn't convert due in large part to his opponent's determination. The set would go to a tiebreaker.

In the tiebreak, Rochus continued his impressive play taking 4-1 and 5-3 leads. Within two points of leveling the match, with the crowd behind him, Rochus was replied by Federer's best. As great champions often do, they rise up to the challenge. Faced with that prospect, The Maestro increased his level taking the next three points to reach set point but Rochus saved it to tie the score at six. That's when Federer went for the kill, playing an exceptional point on Rochus' next serve resulting in a winner. On his second chance to close the set, Federer came up with an ace out wide to silence the crowd.

In no real danger of losing, he broke Rochus in the fourth game of the third set and then again in the eighth, ending the match in style with a crosscourt backhand winner on the run. He finished with 38 winners to Rochus' 22. Both came to net 40 times in the match with Federer winning one more point- Federer-29 Rochus-28.

Finishing earlier that night was the Open's longest match this year when 33-year-old Italian veteran Davide Sanguinetti outlasted Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan in a four hour 26-minute five set thriller 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5).

Before a near capacity crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium, both players put forth a great show for spectators giving them the kind of tennis that brought back memories of Jimmy Connors' amazing run to the semis in '91 at the age of 39. In an epic battle with some extended rallies as long as a remarkable 34 strokes, the two players kept pushing each other to the limit in the fifth set.

The fun began when Srichaphan broke Sanguinetti twice to get back on serve. He was two games away from losing. Srichaphan and Sanguinetti had a memorable 11th game late where the popular 26-year-old from Thailand had a few looks at breaking again and having a chance to serve it out. But a clearly exhausted Sanguinetti wasn't ready to bow out, coming up with some unreal shots bringing the crowd to its feet and raising his arms when he held.

When a spent Srichaphan pumped in his 12th ace, it fittingly sent it to a third and final tiebreak as fans stood up and cheered. The crowdpleasing pressure packed tennis continued with each player working their opponents from side to side.

With Sanguinetti up 5-2, a desperate Srichaphan dug in and grinded out both points on the Italian's serve to put the contest in doubt. But on the very next point, Sanguinetti played another remarkable point, hustling down a Srichaphan drop shot with a lob. When Srichaphan tracked it down, Sanguinetti worked his way to net and came up with a great drop volley to earn two match points but Srichaphan saved the first. When Sanguinetti slammed an overhead into an open court, he raised his arms at the net, then fell to the ground in disbelief.

It was finally over. Both embraced at the net and got a thunderous reception.

"I think it's one of the best matches I've played," said Srichaphan later. "I think we both had fun and were enjoying it."

In the other late match, Argentina's David Nalbandian (11) eliminated Chile's Fernando Gonzalez (21) 7-5, 6-3, 6-0. He'll next meet Sanguinetti for a shot at a possible quarterfinal with Federer.


Labor Day, men's Round of 16 matches get underway with Andre Agassi (7) battling Xavier Malisse, Guillermo Coria (8) challenged by Nicolas Massu, Richard Gasquet (13) facing Robby Ginepri and Tommy Robredo (19) against James Blake.

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