Day three of the Australian Open was all about grafting results. Some of the leading contenders had tough matches, but none had a bigger scare than reigning champion, Roger Federer.
The Swiss star was pushed all the way by Gilles Simon in a five set match that that last over three hours this morning. The final match of the day captivated the crowd at the Rod Laver Arena. Simon landed body blows throughout to reel in the fast starting Federer who took the opening two sets. Simon had beaten Federer in their previous two meetings and looked to have momentum on his side by taking the next two sets.
Federer, a winner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles, showed the fighting spirit of a champion and fought against the tide to challenge back. An early break of serve in the deciding set gave Federer the advantage and with Simon serving at 2-5 Federer had three match points to book a place in the third round. With no margin for error Simon stuck to his guns and played aggressive tennis to hold serve, and keep his hopes alive.
With midnight approaching in Melbourne Federer served for the match, but Simon saved a fourth match point. It was to be his final stand. With Federer serving at deuce Simon saw his return hit the tape on the net, and fall on his side of the court. This point epitomised the performance of the Frenchman; teetering on the brink of an upset, but ultimately falling just short.
On the next point Federer clinched the match on his fifth match point. Speaking after the match Federer was clearly glad to have moved through 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.
“He’s a great player first of all so matches against him are never easy,” said Federer. “This is the first win I’ve had against him; every time we played we go the distance, so hopefully we don’t play each other anymore. It was really important to get the second set and from then on it was a tough match, it showed what a great mover, return player he is. It’s great to play against him, I really enjoyed myself out here tonight, it’s really special, and obviously I’m really happy.”
Earlier in the day Justine Henin, runner up last year, wasted no time in her match against Elena Baltacha. The seven times Grand Slam champion wound out a comfortable winner and set up third round clash with 23rd seed, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
For Henin to challenge for the title she will need to improve after struggling at times today. Her first serve was especially poor; accuracy of only 56% is a recipe for disaster at this level. Henin though can take solace in the fact that when she kept her serve in play she won 21 of 25 points.
Other ladies matches top seed, Caroline Wozniacki, a dominant winner in straight sets against Vania King while French Open champion, Francesca Schiavone, was pushed all the way by Rebecca Marino before taking the deciding set 9-7.
Victoria Azarenka, the eighth seed, defeated Andrea Hlavackova 6-4, 6-4 to set up a third round clash with Canelle Scheepers who went the distance with Regina Kulikova. Li Na, a semi finalist last year, moved into round three with a solid straight sets win.
Fernando Verdasco has had a miserable time of late and overcame a poor start to come from two sets down to beat Janko Tipsarevic 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0. Andy Roddick was another player who had a tough first set with American challenged in a tie break before advancing 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 at the expense of Igor Kunitsyn.
In other matches Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova both progressed in the ladies competition with Xavier Malisse registering a great win by knocking out 25th seeded Spaniard Albert Montanes in straight sets in a one sided match that saw former world number 19, Malisse, move comfortably into round three in a Grand Slam for the first time since 2005. Montanes was not the only seed to fall with Juan Monaco and Mardy Fish also beaten.