Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Federer Survives Davydenko In Four

For the second straight match, top seeded Swiss Roger Federer was forced to raise his level against a quality opponent. After requiring five sets to overcome Tommy Haas in the Round of 16, Federer needed more than three hours to defeat fifth seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko in four hard fought sets 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) at Rod Laver Arena Wednesday night.

"We've always had tough matches," Federer said afterwards. "I knew it would be a tough one, he's had some good results here and I think he likes this surface."

After each player traded breaks in the opening set, Federer took advantage of a rare loose game from Davydenko to get the break he needed to claim the set.

But if Federer thought it would be easy against Davydenko, the talented Russian had something very different in store. With both players trading powerful shots during lengthy rallies, Federer found that he couldn't break his opponent's will.

Davydenko began applying heavy pressure on Federer's serve while having no problems holding. When Federer finally sent a forehand long, Davydenko broke for a 3-2 lead in the set. Continuing to ride the momentum, he began to take control of points by getting the better of Federer during rallies. Deadly accurate from the baseline with knifing groundstrokes, he began to force Federer into unforced errors. Federer finished with 52 for the match while Davydenko had 48.

While the world's number one player struggled on serve, Davydenko continued to roll on his, converting 88 percent on his first serve. Remarkably, he didn't face one break point in the set. After holding for a 5-3 lead, Davydenko recorded his second break to draw even. When he struck a huge backhand down the line which Federer couldn't retrieve, the match was up for grabs.

The third set was tightly contested. With Davydenko serving first, he continued to hold to put pressure on Federer. Each player held the first seven games to give Davydenko a 4-3 lead. At that point, things got interesting. With Federer serving to try to even it, Davydenko made his move. Taking advantage of two Federer forehand misses, a backhand pass forced Federer to miss a volley for 15-40. Though Federer saved one, he couldn't fight off the second to give Davydenko the break for a 5-3 lead. But with Davydenko serving for the set, Federer broke back during a similar game. With Davydenko leading 6-5, Federer nearly dropped the set on his serve but valiantly fought off two set points to force a pivotal tiebreaker.

In it, Davydenko took early control to jump out to a 6-3 lead setting up three more set points. But after Federer saved two with service winners, he outlasted Davydenko during a tenative rally, which saw the Russian misfire on a backhand to tie the score at six. After Davydenko won the next point to setup a sixth set point, Federer once again came up with his best to stay alive. After winning another free point on his serve to give him his first set point, Federer watched as Davydenko nervously served a double fault to donate the set. It was Davydenko's first double of the match.

With both players tired, the fourth set saw each misfire on routine shots more often. When Davydenko recorded his fifth break of the match in the opening game, he couldn't maintain it because Federer came right back with his fourth break to square the set. From there, both tightened up on their serves to hold the rest of the set but not without some late drama. Trailing 5-6 while serving to force a second consecutive tiebreak, Davydenko was forced to save a match point. In another epic baseline battle, he came up with a gutsy crosscourt forehand winner which landed a quarter on the line to stay alive. From there, he held to setup another tiebreak.

After both players couldn't find the range, they saved their best for last. When Federer hit a crosscourt forehand pass for a 5-2 two minibreak lead, he let out a scream. But with Federer serving to close him out, Davydenko courageously won both points by hitting big. First, he ripped a down the line forehand winner to get within 3-5. Then some more top heavy groundstrokes resulted in an unreturned shot to make it 4-5. But with Davydenko looking to tie the score, Federer came up with another huge forehand winner down the line to give him two more match points.

After Davydenko saved the second on his serve, Federer rose to the occasion once again by fittingly serving an ace down the middle to win the match. It was just his sixth but it came when he needed it most.

Federer finished with 46 winners while Davydenko had 30. To show how close this match was, Federer won only five more total points- 144-139. The final two sets lasted one hour fifty-eight minutes.

"I still came through," Federer pointed out. "Usually when I scramble it's because of my opponent. It was a fantastic match."

With the win, he advanced to a semifinal against 21st seeded German Nicolas Kiefer. Kiefer outlasted 25th seeded Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean 6-3, 0-6, 6-4, 6-7 (1), 8-6 in a grueling four hours forty-eight minutes. The match wasn't without controversy. With Grosjean trailing Kiefer 6-5 in the final set to stay alive, during a competitive point, a scrambling Kiefer tossed his racket in Grosjean's direction. Unnerved by it, the Frenchman missed his next shot at the net and lost the point. Booed by the crowd, Kiefer apologized. Two points from losing, Grosjean held serve to level the match 6-6.

After Kiefer held for 7-6, he applied heavy pressure on Grosjean's serve to take the match. Combining solid groundstrokes with three savvy drop volleys to win points, the German converted his second match point when Grosjean misfired a shot. The final set took 96 minutes.

Kiefer advanced despite making almost twice as many errors as winners (67 to 34). Grosjean finished with 59 winners to 55 unforced errors. Also, Grosjean won nine more total points despite falling- 169-160.

In the other quarterfinal Tuesday night, 54th ranked 20-year-old Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis continued his run to his first ever grand slam semifinal by outlasting seventh seeded Croat Ivan Ljubicic in five sets 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3. Baghdatis will play fourth seeded Argentine David Nalbandian next for a chance to make the final.

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