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Federer cruises in opener; Djokovic downs Becker

1/15/2008 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Top-ranked Roger Federer showed no
lasting effects from a nasty stomach bug, routing Diego Hartfield
of Argentina 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 Tuesday to open his quest of a third
consecutive Australian Open title.

The illness forced Federer to pull out of last week's exhibition
tournament at Kooyong, interrupting his preparations as he seeks to
pull within one of Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam
championships.

"I'm very happy to be back playing," Federer said. "I'm not
sick very often so it was a bit of a scare."

Playing a match on the new blue Plexicushion surface in Rod
Laver Arena for the first time, he looked just a tad rusty in the
first game, with Hartfield getting his only break-point
opportunity.


The Swiss star, dressed in all black, quickly found his form and
began ripping winners from all over the court, quashing any
suggestions that he might be vulnerable for an early upset.

On a perfect night for tennis, Federer was often perfect,
running off the first nine games and the last seven. He finished
off the match with his 11th ace. With 38 winners and just 14
unforced errors -- none in the third set -- he compiled twice as many
points as Hartfield, 84-42.

"I was playing well in practice, moving well, serving well,"
Federer said. "I knew that, with the full crowd, I'll play even
better. And with the adrenaline rush, you push yourself even more.

"So I knew I'll come out here tonight and probably play pretty
good, you know. But the result was that extreme, I didn't expect
that. But I'm really happy about it. Wish it was like this every
night."

Hartfield was left in awe.

"I had to play perfect to have a chance to make it tight," he
said. "I was trying to play my tennis, believe I can win. Right at
the beginning, I can see I had no chance. He did everything so
good.

"I can't imagine how it's possible to beat him if he plays like
this."In other action on Tuesday, third-ranked Novak Djokovic was called upon to entertain thew crowd as well as play.

After Djokovic beat Benjamin Becker 6-0, 6-2, 7-6 (5) Tuesday in
his first-round match, the television
commentator implored Djokovic to do one of his impressions of
another player -- specifically Maria Sharapova -- that have generated
huge attention on YouTube.

At first, he resisted -- "I don't want to offend anybody," he
said.

But he soon gave in and did a reasonable imitation, right down
to the Russian player's tendency to brush strands of her long
blonde hair back over her ears as she prepares to serve.

The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

"She's OK with it," he said.

There was proof at the U.S. Open, when Sharapova showed up to
root for Djokovic in the final a few days after he imitated her at
that tournament.

Third-ranked Djokovic raced through the first set in just 22
minutes, generating sympathy for underdog Becker, who couldn't seem
to find anything that worked and won only three points on his
serve.

About the only pain that Djokovic suffered early was
self-inflicted. He had to call for the trainer after the fifth game
to treat a small cut on his left knee from hitting himself with his
racket.

Becker, looking increasingly disconsolate and frustrated, got a
loud ovation when he held to win his first game. But Djokovic ran
off the last four games of the second set.

The third set turned into a struggle.

"I lost my momentum," Djokovic said. "I almost lost that
third set, then who knows what would happen?"

Becker broke for the first and only time in the first game at
love on a rash of Djokovic errors, including a bad mis-hit on game
point. Djokovic leveled the set at 2 when Becker double-faulted on
break point.

Becker won the first three points of the tiebreaker. He got an
ace on a challenge of a line call to make it 5-5, but sent two
forehands wide to finish the match.

The loss continued a stretch of five consecutive first-round
exits at Grand Slams for Becker since his upset over Andre Agassi
in the fourth round at the 2006 U.S. Open -- the last match of
Agassi's career.


Meanwhile, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt
advanced to the second round with an
easy 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Belgium's Steve Darcis.
The former world No. 1, who had a poor buildup to the
year's first Grand Slam with early exits in Adelaide and
Sydney, barely needed to get out of first gear and broke the
23-year-old at will.

Darcis only held serve twice in the match. The only other
game he won was when he broke Hewitt's serve in the fifth game
of the second set. Hewitt intimidated the Belgian, making his
first appearance in the tournament, from the outset on Rod
Laver Arena, and forced him into 21 errors, particularly on his
backhand.

The Australian did not let out his trademark fist pump and
"C'Mon" until the fourth game of the second set, though it was
doubtful whether he needed much crowd support to provide the
inspiration required to dispatch his 83rd-ranked opponent.

Elsewhere, No. 10 seed David Nalbandian recovered from back spasms that
forced him out of the Kooyong exhibition last week to beat
Australian Robert Smeets 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (3).

Fifth seeded David Ferrer beat Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-2, 6-2,
6-1 and Dutch player Robin Haase ousted No. 17 Ivan Ljubicic 6-7
(2) 6-3, 6-0, 7-6, (1).

Marcos Baghdatis, the 2006 runner-up, beat 2002 champion Thomas Johansson 7-6 (0), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and Amer Delic beat fellow
American Robert Kendrick 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

Other men advancing included No. 21 Juan Monaco of Argentina and
No. 25 Fernando Verdasco of Spain.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.