Federer Survives Second Straight Five-Setter

Swiss extends unbeaten run to 17-0 against Youzhny

After back-to-back five-set battles, third seed Roger Federer rolls on. On Thursday, the 2004-2008 US Open champion survived a 6-1, 6-7(3), 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 struggle with long-time rival, Mikhail Youhzny, a former No. 8 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and a two-time US Open semi-finalist.

Federer, had never lost to Youzhny in their 16-match FedEx ATP Head2Head series. The Russian, now at No. 101 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, had never gone as close as this.

“I'm better than the first round, so I'm happy,” Federer said. “This match wasn't about the back, which is good. This is more just a grind. I felt different, completely different, the way it played and everything. But I'm really, really happy I got through.”

The Swiss had never played consecutive five-setters in his career entering 2017. Now he has twice this year, having earlier done so in the Australian Open semi-finals and final (d. Wawrinka and Nadal). The 36 year old was downplaying any threat of fatigue going forward.

“I think because you're on a high, you're thrilled that you got through, so you don't look at the negative,” Federer said. “Yes, I might feel more tired than I normally would going into a third round, but that's OK.

“My preparation hasn't been good at all here. I knew I was going to maybe struggle early on. Maybe I struggled more than I would have liked to. But I'm still in the draw, which gives me a chance. 

“I still believe I'm going to pick up my game and become just more consistent because I'm not playing all that bad ... With a bit of fatigue, that's OK. I've done that hundreds of times. That's not something I'm too concerned about.”

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Federer did not put a foot wrong in the 26-minute first set, which saw him win the first five games. Although he could not convert two set point chances on Youzhny’s serve with a 5-0 lead, his domination was tempered when Youhzny regrouped by winning the first two games of the second set.

Federer clinched four straight games, but when he served for the set at 5-4, three backhand errors cost him. Youzhny went on to capitalise by winning just his fifth set – also 2000 Stockholm, 2003 Halle, 2011 Wimbledon, 2013 Halle – against Federer in their 17th meeting. It broke a streak of 16 sets for Federer in hard-court matches against Youzhny, dating back to their first clash in Sweden, which the Swiss star won 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

“I think I benefited from my head-to-head in the beginning stages,” Federer said. “I should have taken advantage of the fact I was up 6-1, 4-2 maybe. Somehow in that second set, I don't care if I'm winning in the breaker or just earlier, but I have to win it somehow. 

“That's where my biggest regrets are for today. I didn't get the two-sets-to-love lead. At two-sets-to-love, I'll win in three or four, that's my opinion. He doesn't have a big enough serve to consistently put me under pressure at that stage. I would be able to play more freely.”

In the third set, Federer saw his service speed drop on average by nine miles per hour from the previous two sets. Youzhny broke for 3-2 and, seizing his chance, closed out the set on his third opportunity. Federer had grit hit teeth to save two set points in a 14-point ninth game.

Federer refused to fold and took a 4-1 lead in the fourth set, but Youzhny remained competitive by striking a backhand crosscourt winner in the ninth game, with Federer serving at 30/40. Federer responded immediately to take the match to a fifth set, the first time he has played back-to-back five-setters in the opening two rounds of a major. On Tuesday, the 36 year old beat #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in the first round.

With the Swiss serving at 1-1 in the deciding set, Youzhny took an awkward fall, grasping for his right leg after he reached for a backhand lob. He limped on, however, and after the Federer let two break-point opportunities pass by with unforced errors the Russian levelled for 2-2 after a near 10-minute struggle on serve.

His resistance was broken soon after, however. A seventh double fault of the match handed Federer the break for 4-2 and the Swiss held with ease to close to within a game of victory, cleverly exploiting his opponent’s ailing movement.

The wheels had all but wobbled off for Youzhny by this point. Federer took the final four games of the match, breaking one last time with a simple overhead put-away to seal his place in the third round. He will next meet Spanish No. 31 seed Feliciano Lopez, who beat his compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in two hours and 10 minutes.

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