Friday, September 02, 2005

The Maestro Out Tacts The Magician

It's not often world number one Roger Federer is pushed by a second round foe. But Friday night before over 23,000 boisterous spectators at Ashe Stadium, Fabrice Santoro made him work for everything in an unconventional straight sets win 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (2).

Federer, who has held the number one spot for over 81 weeks has been nicknamed "The Maestro" because of the remarkable shots he can come up with under pressure. Against Santoro, a crafty topspin artist who has every trick in the book and is referred to as "The Magician," Federer lived up to that billing. Forced to come up with every conceivable angle against the tricky Santoro, he and his opponent put on a show.

Santoro gave the crowd a hint of what was to come in the second game when he ran down a Federer lob and pulled off a no look between the legs crosscourt shot that fooled Federer giving him the point, which drew the first of many ovations from the crowd.

Though Federer was up two breaks 5-1 in the opening set, it wasn't an indication of how well Santoro was playing. When Santoro fought off three set points and broke Federer two consecutive times, he held serve to miraculously level it five all. That's when the defending Open champ raised his game holding for 6-5 and then pulled out all the stops to break Santoro. He claimed the set when he rifled a backhand winner down the line pumping his fist and yelling, "Come on." For the match, Federer finished with 73 winners to his opponent's 29.

The second set was even better with both coming up with a variety of different shots. The best part was they didn't just rely on power but each mixed it up and came to the net adding to the entertainment value. Federer won 67 percent (45-for-67) at the net while Santoro converted 58 percent (49-for-84).

On serve at three all, the seventh game might have been a pivotal point. with Santoro having three chances to break Federer. But he came up with two forehand winners including an amazing one where he ran down a Santoro drop volley and pulled it across the net from an almost impossible angle to save the game. With Federer leading 6-5, the opportunistic five-time slam winner again came up with the goods to break Santoro. When he forced a Santoro error, the 47 minute set was his.

Though he trailed by two sets, Santoro never went away in the third with each player holding until a tiebreak. In it, Federer saved his best for last, spraying backhand and forehand winners to jump out to a 6-0 lead and setup six match points. As the two crossed the net, Santoro smiled and said something. One can only speculate what because it was awe inspiring stuff. As he lined up to serve, the crowd gave Santoro a loud reception for how well he played against such a great player. When he got the next two points, the cheers were even louder. Finally, Federer forced a long forehand to claim the match.

With the crowd still buzzing from the effort they saw, both players were interviewed. Asked about what the plan was against Federer, Santoro remarked "I knew I had to play my best or the match would be over in an hour. I don't think I could play better." When asked what makes Federer so tough he added, "Everything," as fans applauded. About his opponent's uncanny style Federer noted, "I knew what to expect. Our matches are always entertaining," to roaring approval.

It was the kind of match that Federer's main competition should take note of with both players having fun and trying different tactics to pull it out.

Federer will next meet Olivier Rochus (27), who eliminated Albert Montanes 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-3.

In a battle of qualifiers, veteran Arnaud Clement outlasted 18-year-old Brit sensation Andy Murray 6-2, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-0 in a match that took four hours. A third round appearance in his debut slam at Wimbledon, the fiery Murray has a rock solid ground game and big serve. Against Clement, he ran out of gas but will be heard from in the future.

Clement will face German Nicolas Kiefer, who took out Radek Stepanek (16) in five 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The winner of that faces Federer-Rochus. David Nalbandian (11) defeated Peter Wessels 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) and will play Chilean Fernando Gonzalez (21), who bested Dmitry Tursonov 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.


Day Six on the men's side features a couple of appetizing third round matches with two seed Rafael Nadal meeting American James Blake and seventh seed Andre Agassi up against Czech Tomas Berdych (32).

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