Federer loses to start Masters Cup defense; Murray beats Roddick

11/10/2008 - Tennis

SHANGHAI, China -- Roger Federer's back was fine. His game still needs mending.

Gilles Simon defeated Federer 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 at the Masters Cup on Monday in the Swiss star's first match since a sore back forced him out of his last tournament.

Later, Andy Murray of Britain beat Andy Roddick of the United States 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the other Red group match.

The second-ranked Federer said earlier he didn't know what to expect when he played his first round-robin match in the season-ending event for the top eight players.

It turned out to be flashes of his usual brilliance, then a quick slide downhill. Federer faltered late in the second set with a rash of errors that allowed Simon to get back into the match.

"Definitely today shots maybe I miss I normally don't miss," Federer said. "I think that's just lack of practice and just uncertainty where my back was today. Now at least I have a match under my belt, especially three sets, and I hope I can play better in the next match."

Federer withdrew from the Paris Masters 10 days ago because of his sore back.

"I was sort of skeptical going into the match because the practice sessions haven't been hard at all," Federer said. "I really tried to not push it at all. So I was actually happy that the back felt OK."

The four-time Masters Cup winner also gave credit to Simon, who won their only previous meeting, also in three sets, in Toronto in July.

"The better you play, the better he plays," Federer said. "He's quite a unique player and he makes you work hard and runs very well."

Federer also lost his first match at last year's Masters Cup but went on to win the title.

"It's great," he said. "It's the only tournament where I really have a chance after losing first rounds."

The ninth-ranked Simon, added to the field when No. 1 Rafael Nadal withdrew with knee tendinitis, started finding the lines and capitalized on Federer's slip in play in the last two sets.

Simon ripped a backhand crosscourt winner on break point as Federer served at 3-4 in the third set, then served his seventh ace on match point.

"It's always hard to win against Federer," Simon said. "I know that I have to play my best tennis. I just wanted to give everything on the court. I defeated him once in Toronto, so it was easier to finish the match."

The crowd overwhelmingly favored Federer. Swiss flags were scattered around the nearly packed Qi Zhong stadium, and one section was a sea of red and white.

Federer appeared to take a few points to loosen up. Then, after wasting three break points as Simon served at 1-1 in the first set, he broke through for a 3-2 edge, taking the game with a forehand that Simon couldn't touch.

Federer staved off a break point in the next game and finished off the set with a second-serve ace and seemed to be headed for a quick victory.

They traded early breaks in the second set, and Simon had a great chance to forge ahead but squandered three break points as Federer started to look tight while serving at 3-4.

Federer smacked a routine overhead and an easy forehand volley into the net to fall behind 0-30, then found the net again with a swinging forehand off a short ball at deuce, but managed to hold.

Federer wasn't as lucky in his next service game, with Simon breaking to take the set and level the match with a great backhand winner after a long rally.

Federer had to rally from 0-40 while serving at 2-3 in the deciding set, pumping his fist and shouting "Come on!" Simon replicated the escape act in the next game, with Federer helping with two forehands that sailed way long. Simon got the deciding break in the next game.

Murray, also appearing at the Masters Cup for the first time, was sharp at the start against Roddick, hitting five aces in his first two service games.

"There's no question that he's very confident right now," Roddick said. "That's probably the main difference."

Returning Roddick's serve well and tracking down almost everything, Murray got the only break in the first set as the American served at 2-2. Roddick sent a backhand volley long to set up break point, and Murray followed with a forehand crosscourt winner.

Murray held serve for the rest of the set, then suddenly lost his rhythm as Roddick found his. The American fended off a break point in the first game of the second set while running off five games as Murray began spraying shots long and into the net.

But just as quickly as he lost form, Murray found it again. He held at love to pull within 5-1, and after Roddick held to take the set, Murray ran off the first five games of the third. Roddick finally held to 5-1, and Murray then held serve, finishing it off with a pair of clean winners, the last a high backhand volley.

Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko, who won their first matches in the Gold group, play each other Tuesday after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin del Potro meet in an earlier match.