Federer, Hewitt cling on in US Open

Roger Federer dropped his first set in the United States Open before putting away Nicolas Kiefer of Germany 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday to earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

With the scare, Federer finally looked more mortal than the guy who has dominated tennis the past two years.

“So far in this tournament, I haven’t lost a set before,” Federer said. “When it happens, you’re not ready for it.”

Federer will play 11th-seeded David Nalbandian of Argentina or Davide Sanguinetti of Italy.

“Nalbandian, because I have a bad record against him,” Federer said when asked if he had a preference.

Lleyton Hewitt scored one for the fashion police in making the quarterfinals for the sixth straight year. He won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 over number 15 Dominik Hrbaty, who drew more attention for his pink peekaboo shirt than his play.

The 2001 champion and runner-up last year now plays Jarkko Nieminen, who became the first Finnish man to reach the quarters in a grand-slam event with a 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-3 victory over Spain’s Fernando Verdasco.

“I wouldn’t wear it.
But it made it a lot easier for me to beat him today,” Hewitt said. “I just couldn’t lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that.”

Federer has hardly been tested in the Open—or this year, for that matter. He’s 68-3, unbeaten since the French Open semifinals, and has won 32 straight matches on hard courts—moving him ahead of Ivan Lendl and behind only Pete Sampras in the Open era. Federer can break Sampras’s record if he wins the tournament.

But Federer looked vulnerable early against Kiefer, whom he’d already beaten three times this year. Federer’s timing was off as he repeatedly hit shots a touch too long or dumped them into the net, and his game lacked its usual flair. He even tossed his racket once, a rare show of emotion on the court.

Federer finally returned to form in the third set. With the set tied 3-3, Kiefer reached double break point when Federer netted a forehand. But Federer rallied, drilling a 193kph service winner, then yelling “Come on!” after hitting a cross-court pass to get the score back to deuce. Kiefer made two unforced errors as Federer closed out the game.

Federer broke Kiefer the next game and then served out the set as Kiefer slipped awkwardly racing for a shot in the corner on set point. Though Kiefer made him work for the final set, Federer seemed more like himself with dazzling shots.

Maybe it’s the proximity to the city’s Garment District, but the Open seems to be the spot for fashion statements. Three years ago, Germany’s Tommy Haas was ordered to change after he showed up in a sleeveless muscle shirt. Now, of course, all the kids are wearing them.

Serena Williams showed up in a zip-down, stop-at-the-thighs black Lycra outfit a few years back, and sported knee-high black boots, a pleated denim miniskirt and a studded black tank top last year.

This year, it was Hrbaty’s shirt causing the stir. The black-and-pink shirt looks ordinary from the front. On the back, though, there are oval-shaped cutouts—“flyholes”, Hewitt called them—below each shoulder that look like a peekaboo bra. Or as if the shirt had gotten caught on his head and the Slovakian hadn’t pulled it on all the way.

“I don’t really know what the design means, if it’s only an idea or if it had any purpose in the beginning. Or somebody was trying to make a smiley face in the back,” Hrbaty said. “The shirt itself is actually nice. You don’t sweat as much. Also, you don’t feel the heat that much.”

The shirt was of no help against Hewitt, though. The Australian broke Hrbaty three times in the first set, including once at love.

“I got out of the blocks well today,” Hewitt said. “I went out there with a game plan and just executed it. I did what I needed to do and didn’t feel that under pressure.”

Hrbaty, a quarterfinalist last year, gave Hewitt more of a game in the second set. He broke the Australian to go up 3-1, but then gave the break right back. With the set tied 4-4, Hrbaty was broken again after two careless mistakes.

After Hewitt raced to the corner to chase down a shot, Hrbaty stood ready at the net, set up for what should have been an easy winner. But he put too much power on the overhead, and it sailed past the line. He did the same thing on the next point, and Hewitt took the game when Hrbaty’s backhand hit the net and bounced out of bounds, one of 49 errors he made during the match.

“I didn’t play my best. I made many mistakes against him,” Hrbaty said. “I had a couple of chances in the second set where I had the feeling I could turn the match the other way and I made two mistakes.”

Hewitt served out the set and breezed through the third to move into the quarterfinals, keeping his streak intact. The only time he’s failed to make the quarters was in 1999, when he lost in the third round in his Open debut.

“It’s a great record to have here,” Hewitt said. “It’s not an easy grand slam, not an easy tournament to do well at. To go out successfully every year, it’s a huge positive I think. I love playing in New York. I love the conditions, the court surface, the balls, everything about it.”—Sapa-AP

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