Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 20 News List

Federer overcomes slow start to win

AP , MELBOURNE

Roger Federer of Switzerland returns a shot by German Bjorn Phau during their first- round match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne yesterday.

PHOTO: EPA

Roger Federer made it look difficult for a change, starting his bid for a 10th Grand Slam championship and successful Australian Open title defense by dropping serve three times in the first set.

But the top-ranked Federer rebounded quickly after Bjorn Phau took a 5-3 lead yesterday, winning the next nine games and conceding only six points in the second set.

The Swiss star went on to win 7-5, 6-0, 6-4, easily dispatching the 27-year-old German who beat him seven years ago in their only previous match.

"I got broken in the first set three times -- you try to stay cool but I got a little bit nervous," said Federer, who went 92-5 with 12 titles last season and has held the top ranking since February 2004.

Otherwise, he said, "It felt great to be back."

Federer changed his preparation schedule this year, skipping his usual regular-season opener and playing three matches in an exhibition tournament at Kooyong, where he lost the final on Saturday to Andy Roddick.

Federer said he had overcome any Grand Slam nerves, though it would take a little time to get his best rhythm back.

"Now that I'm through my first round, you obviously kind of shake it off and you feel good about it," said Federer, who could break Jimmy Connors' record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the men's rankings at the end of next month.

Marcos Baghdatis, the surprise finalist here last year, opened with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over 2003 runner-up Rainer Schuettler, drawing wild cheers from the big gathering of Cypriots and Greeks in the crowd.

Roddick overcame a shaky start against French wild-card Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, wasting four set points in the opening tiebreaker and rallying from 2-5 in the second set to win 6-7 (18), 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.

The 2003 US Open champion was constantly critical of umpire Carlos Ramos, calling the Portuguese official a "glorified scorekeeper" after a call that gave Tsonga a set point at 11-10 in the first tiebreaker. Roddick thought one of Tsonga's balls was 3 inches over the baseline.

Video replays are being used at Rod Laver Arena, the center court at Melbourne Park, for the first time at the Australian Open, but not on any other courts. The sixth-seeded Roddick was playing on the second show court, so he could not ask for a replay.

He said he would have challenged that point, among others.

"I think I got a little first-round jitters," Roddick said. "I played better as the match went on. I hope I can get better in the second round."

Roddick said at times he was scared in the first set against the 21-year-old Tsonga, who was playing only his sixth match in a top level ATP event.

"Absolutely, to say the least," Roddick said. "I was wondering if we were ever going to finish the tiebreaker."

Women's champion Amelie Mauresmo was the first female player up at Rod Laver Arena and started her title defense with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Shenay Perry.

Apart from dropping serve in the third game and again when serving for the match at 5-2, the second-seeded Mauresmo was in control as she returned to the scene of her biggest victory.

Mauresmo beat Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final last year to claim her first Grand Slam title, seven years after losing in her only other trip to the final of a major.

Mauresmo also won the Wimbledon title last summer and spent most of the season at No. 1.

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