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Monday, January 18, 2010
Updated: January 19, 10:11 AM ET
Federer fends off free-swinging Andreev

Roger Federer had never lost in the first round of a hard-court major. The unthinkable almost materialized Tuesday, thanks to, at times, an out-of-sorts Federer and inspired play from a Russian with the heaviest forehand in the men's game.

In the end, the genial Swiss pulled out a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (2), 6-0 win over Igor Andreev, who's high on ability but with a penchant for coming unstuck at the wrong times, like girlfriend Maria Kirilenko. He reverted to type at Rod Laver Arena in weather that was considerably better than it was Monday, when Kirilenko held it together for a change to upset fellow glamour girl Maria Sharapova.

"I thought I was playing well in the first set, even when I lost it," Federer said in an on-court interview. "He was maybe getting tired and missing shots near the end, but I think he's a wonderful player. It was a tough first round, so really, really relieved I'm through."

These two have history. Andreev, down to 37th in the rankings following an almighty slump, stretched Federer to five sets in the fourth round of the U.S. Open two years ago. Back then Andreev was in the groove.

Few expected this close of a rematch, though, with Andreev going 1-3 in 2010 and winning only one of his last nine matches in 2009.

The first set foretold an up-and-down encounter. Federer blew a break lead early and Andreev surged, before somewhat predictably suffering a letdown in the second.

The absorbing third set was the turning point. Andreev went up an early break and missed a shot he'll have nightmares about at 3-3. Facing a break point, Federer, run ragged from the baseline the first three sets, unleashed a drop shot. Call it one of the worst he's ever hit.

The ball sat up and Andreev got there in plenty of time, but with his extreme forehand grip, sent his reply well long. His support camp put head in hands. Federer held and led 5-3.

The set all over? Nope.

Andreev luckily won the first two points of the ninth game, and broke again for a 6-5 advantage. Andreev, a quarterfinalist once before at a major, manufactured three set points, both times delivering good serves. He couldn't finish off the job, three unforced errors following.

"I started 30-love, and maybe there was a little bit concentration went away," Andreev told reporters. "So I thought that it's already in my pocket, and that was a real mistake. Not technique, but just another lose of concentration."

Federer caught a break on break point, as another crushing Andreev forehand sailed into the corner. The ball was called out, Andreev challenged and was proved right. But they replayed the point because it wasn't a clean winner, and Federer took advantage to force a tiebreaker, which went quickly.

"I could have been up 30-0," Federer said. "Then the next thing you know he's swinging freely again, so it was a tough third set. I think I definitely got lucky to get out of that one. He was playing well on the set points, served well, got the shots he wanted. It was a fortunate third set for me today."

The fourth was even quicker, and saw a large contribution to Andreev's unkind unforced error tally of 55. Federer donated 38, coupled with 29 winners.

A few Federer fans will have raised eyebrows about the result, but keep in mind that this was a tough draw. Federer faces either fading veteran Juan Ignacio Chela or the immobile Victor Hanescu in Round 2, with clay-court-loving 31st seed Albert Montanes probably showing up in the third round. They won't trouble Federer.

And if home-hope Lleyton Hewitt faces him in the fourth round, Federer will be highly favored to progress against the former world No. 1. However, should Marcos Baghdatis surface, he's a sterner test.

In any case, Federer survived for at least another day.