Federer struggles to victory

Roger Federer, playing his first match since lifting the Wimbledon title in early July, struggled to a ragged 7-6 (7/3), 7-5 victory over James Blake at the Cincinnati Masters on Monday.

The Swiss world number one, whose last match was the final over Andy Roddick that clinched a third consecutive Wimbledon title, needed to muster up memories of hard-court success to scramble past the 70th-ranked American wild-card entry.

“It was a tough start to this United States Open campaign,” said the top seed, who entered his opener at this $2,45-million tournament with his worst record at any major event: 1-4.

“In the end, I’m happy I’m through,” said the player now under some threat from Spain’s hard-charging teenaged talent Rafael Nadal, the second seed who captured his first career hard-court crown on Sunday at the Montreal Masters.

“These are tough matches. In the back of your mind you still have Wimbledon, where the points are always short, But it doesn’t work that way on the hard court here,” said Federer.

“I’m happy as long as I’m winning,” said the winner of eight titles this season—one less than Nadal. “It’s OK to train, but I prefer to play matches.

“I hope one tournament is enough for me before the US Open, starting in a fortnight.”

Federer is aiming this week for his fourth Masters title this season after victories in Indian Wells, Miami and Hamburg.

The 24-year-old, who celebrated a birthday earlier this month, nudged his season record to 59-3 as he stretched a winning streak to 13 straight, dating to a French Open semifinal loss to Nadal.

A relieved Andy Roddick re-established his hard-court game with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Austrian Jurgen Melzer, finally getting in the win column in the summer Masters Series.

The fifth seed, who lost in his opening match a week ago in Montreal to eventual semifinalist Paul-Henri Mathieu, returned to form in the familiar surrounds of an event he won in 2003.

Roddick improved to a 14-4 record in Cincinnati after reaching the semifinals here last year before falling to eventual champion Andre Agassi.

The win was his 45th of the season against 10 defeats.

After his Canadian embarrassment, the American was making sure that upset lightning didn’t strike twice.

“I’ve been here since Wednesday getting used to the conditions,” Roddick said.

Another early Montreal victim, British 12th seed Tim Henman, also found satisfaction in a 6-2, 6-1 win over Chile’s Nicolas Massu.

The victory was the first for the 30-year-old since the first round at Wimbledon. He next faces Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela, who advanced 6-6 when Spaniard Alberto Martin retired with a back injury.

Argentinian ninth seed Guillermo Coria defeated Paradorn Srichaphan 6-4, 6-2 putting the Thai into trouble as his form sinks again after playing a Washington final just more than a week ago against Roddick.

France’s Fabrice Santoro worked his magic on 14th seed Ivan Ljubicic, ousting the Croatian 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (9/7), 7-5.

And French teenaged wild card Gael Monfils notched an upset as he dispatched Czech 15th seed Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-2.—Sapa-AFP

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