Monday, January 23, 2006

Federer Pushed To Five By Haas

It's not often men's world number one Roger Federer has to sweat. But after leading German Tommy Haas by two sets, that's exactly what the Swiss Maestro had to do before raising his level to advance in a heated fourth round battle 6-4, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 Monday night at Rod Laver Arena.

Making an uncharacteristic 58 unforced errors while his opponent committed just 36, Federer struggled to put away a determined Haas.

After taking the opening set 6-4, Federer dominated Haas in an uncompetitive second which saw him bagel the unseeded German. Using every weapon in his arsenal and finding every conceivable angle for winners, Federer toyed with Haas during rallies to easily claim the set in only 28 minutes.

With Haas looking increasingly frustrated, Federer seemed on his way to another routine straight sets victory. However, Haas wouldn't go away easily. Serving notice in the opening game, Haas fought off a couple of break points to hold. That's when the match swung. Able to lift his game, Haas started striking the ball with more precision and began to fluster the usually unflappable Federer.

When a Federer forehand steered long in the sixth game, Haas had his first break of the match. He then held twice to push it to a fourth set.

The inspired play from Haas continued. Now taking it to Federer during extended rallies, Haas got the better of the play. After breaking Federer in the third game, he made it stand up with some big serving and clutch shotmaking as well as some unusual easy misses from Federer. Coming up with sizzling backhand winners down the line and lunging forehand volleys reminiscent of former German star Boris Becker, Haas had no trouble closing out the set 6-4 to suddenly force a deciding fifth set.

Invoking memories of Federer's Masters Cup Championship five-set loss in which he led by two sets to David Nalbandian last November, Haas had pushed him to the limit, invigorating the crowd.

With chants of "Tommy, Tommy," Haas tried his best to complete the comeback by continuing to apply pressure. However, as champions often do, Federer rose to the occasion, saving his best tennis when he needed it. On some crucial points on his serve, Federer hit lines with a couple of forehands to hold. It was the start of a big finish in which he cracked 18 of his match high 66 winners to just six unforced errors the final set.

Finally sharper, Federer began to dictate points again. Though Haas bravely fought off two break points in the fourth game, he couldn't prevent Federer from breaking to go up 4-2. During a long rally, Haas unfortunately just missed a forehand winner wide, which gave Federer the break. Haas protested in frustration but replays showed that it was properly ruled out.

From there, Federer held for 5-2 and then went for the kill in the eighth game. The end came when Haas struck another forehand long, to which Federer emphatically yelled out, "Yeah!!!!!"

"This is a good match here for me to win in five sets on Rod Laver Arena," Federer said during a postmatch conference afterwards. "I tried to break his momentum, and all I needed was a break. And Tommy made that difficult for me."

"I like to be pushed like this because the media people get on my nerves. They keep asking me wouldn't it be good if you lost a set, wouldn't it be good if you have a tough one. It's all crap man. I'm happy I've had a tough one and I'm still in the tournament."

Federer improved to 9-9 in five-set matches. He next will meet fifth seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals. Davydenko battled back from two sets down to take out 12th seeded Slovak Dominik Hrbaty 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

In other Round of 16 action, 21st seeded German Nicolas Kiefer advanced with a 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win over Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela. Kiefer next plays Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean (25) in the quarters. Grosjean bested countryman Paul-Henri Mathieu 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Men's quarterfinals got underway Tuesday with fourth seeded Argentine David Nalbandian facing tricky Frenchman Fabrice Santoro. The winner will take on either seventh seeded Croat Ivan Ljubicic or Cyprian Marcos Baghdatis.

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