NEW YORK, Aug 30, (Agencies): World number three Roger Federer survived a first-round scare from Frances Tiafoe before grinding out a 4-6 6-2 6-1 1-6 6-4 victory over the American teenager in front of a raucous crowd at the US Open.
Federer looked more relieved than overjoyed when Tiafoe’s forehand found the net on match point to keep his hopes of a 20th grand slam title alive.
“We had a good fight,” Federer said in an on-court interview. “It was exciting and this is why I came to New York, to go through these emotions,” he said with a laugh.
The 19-year-old Tiafoe broke Federer in the first game of the match and bellowed out a loud “Come on!” when his forehand winner found the line to capture the opening set.
Federer, who has won this year’s Australian Open and Wimbledon since taking a six-month break last year, soon found his groove once he broke Tiafoe to take a 3-1 lead in the second set and reeled off nine of the next 10 games.
However, his poor form returned in a 23-minute fourth set when his serve and the accuracy of his trusty one-handed backhand completely deserted him.
Federer said Tiafoe could go on to have a big career.
“He is a great player and has a bright future ahead of him,” he said of the 19-year-old.
Despite coming away with the win, the shaky performance raises questions about the health of the 36-year-old Swiss, who sat out the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month with back pain.
He acknowledged that he was worried about his back going into the match but said he felt “much, much better”.
“This win will give me a lot of confidence,” he said.
Due to rain, the speedy 2-hour and 35-minute five setter was played under the closed roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium, which amplified the volume of the rowdy crowd.
World number one Rafa Nadal dismissed Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (6) 6-2 6-2 to ease into the US Open second round on Tuesday, setting the Spaniard on a collision course for a long overdue Flushing Meadows showdown with Roger Federer.
While the year’s final grand slam is only just underway tennis fans have circled Sept. 8 when, if all goes to form, Nadal and Federer would meet in the last four to decide a place in the final.
One of the great rivalries in sport, Federer, a five-times US Open winner and Nadal, twice champion, have clashed 37 times over the years but never have they stood across the net on Flushing Meadows’ hardcourts.
On French Open clay, Wimbledon’s manicured lawns and in Australian heat, the elegant Swiss maestro and muscular Spaniard have played for titles and while no trophy would be on the line a New York meeting would still have the Big Apple buzzing.
“Today I won. That’s the most important thing for me,” Nadal told reporters. “I believe that I am ready.”
After a sluggish run-up to the US Open that included a shock round of 16 loss to Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov in Montreal and another to Australian Nick Kyrgios in the Cincinnati quarter-finals, Nadal needed a few games to find his range against the 85th-ranked Serb.
The 21-year-old, chasing a first US Open win, showed no sign of nerves, using his stylish groundstrokes to grab the early break on the way to 4-2 lead, the four games as many as he won in his only other meeting with Nadal, a round of 16 loss at the 2014 French Open.
But a steely Nadal found his comfort zone, breaking back at 5-5 to force the opener to a tiebreak that he took 8-6.
A ruthless Nadal delivered the young Serb another tennis lesson, breaking his opponent at the first opportunity in the second and third sets to improve his record in first round US Open matches to 13-0.
Ukraine’s fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina, fighting to become world number one, and Austrian sixth seed Dominic Thiem captured rain-interrupted matches to reach the second round of the US Open.
Svitolina, seeking her sixth title of the year and first Grand Slam crown, held off 42nd-ranked Czech Katerina Siniakova 6-0, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3 while Thiem finished off Australian Alex de Minaur 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 under sunny skies.
There were 87 matches scheduled Wednesday in the year’s final Grand Slam event after rain washed out most of Tuesday’s agenda, 11 of them halted first-round affairs.
Another of those is Svitolina, who dropped six of nine tie-breaker points when her match resumed, but survived a third set, breaking for a 4-2 edge and serving out for the victory.
“It was a little bit unlucky to stop because I was playing good,” Svitolina said. “Today was a little bit of a mess in my head. It was tough to keep my focus. I’m happy I could win the third set and play really good tennis.
“I was just trying to fight for every ball. You can’t win if you’re not mentally strong.”
Thiem, a semi-finalist at the past two French Opens, was working to adapt his skill on the Paris red clay to maximum impact on the New York hardcourts.
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko downed Spain’s Lara Arruaberrena 6-2, 1-6, 6-1 in a match relocated from Court 17 to Ashe.
The Latvian won 12 of the last 14 points to seal the deal in a tie suspended at 3-1 in the final set five hours earlier.