Federer, Djokovic tested at US Open

Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were forced to dig deep after first-set losses in the fourth round of the US Open on Saturday as the action started to heat up in the men’s singles.

While defending champion and top seed Federer made it 14 in a row over former world number one Lleyton Hewitt with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win, fourth-seeded Djokovic struggled to see off the challenge of US wildcard Jesse Witten 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.

Also through early on into the fourth round from the top half of the draw was wily Czech Radek Stepanek, who defeated Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3, and Russian livewire Nikolay Davydenko, who cruised past Switzerland’s Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 7-5, 7-5.

French Open runner-up Robin Soderling, the 12th seed, will take on Davydenko as he ended the hopes of US number two Sam Querrey 6-2, 7-5,
6-7 (6/8), 6-1.

The travails of Federer and Djokovic signalled a tightening of the competition following five days of play in which seeds totally dominated to the extent that the top 16 all reached the third round—the first time this had happened in a Grand Slam tournament in the 41-year Open era.

Federer, seeking a sixth straight US title to match the 84-year-old record of Bill Tilden, was uncustomarily out first under the midday sun at the Arthur Ashe Stadium court and he was uncustomarily sluggish and careless.

In contrast, Hewitt, the champion here in 2001 who is clawing his way back up the rankings after falling out of the top 100 in February, looked much the livlier and more enterprising.

The Australian broke Federer twice to win the first set and had several break points in the third after the Swiss star had levelled the set scores.

But he failed to take them and Federer gradually worked his way back to near his very best, taking the third set and then breaking at the start of the fourth.

A consummate front-runner, Federer raced away to clinch his 38th straight win at the US Open, including one walkover, since he lost to David Nalbandian in the fourth round in 2003.

The win, which assures Federer of retaining the world number one status no matter who wins the title here, means he will play either American James Blake or Tommy Robredo of Spain for a place in the quarterfinals.

“It could have gone either way,” Federer said.

“He had a good start and he believed maybe more today than in some of the other ones he played against me.

“The way I came through, I was very happy, because I knew that being down a set against Lleyton is always going to be a difficult situation for me to be in.”

“Make one more mistake and I’m in the fifth set maybe, or I go down completely. So I was relieved coming through.”

Djokovic, the 2008 Australian Open champion and 2007 US Open runner-up, took three hours and 28 minutes to subdue Witten, the longest long-shot still in the field at 276th in the world.

“Looking at that match, I don’t know who was number four in the world,” Djokovic said. “It was a tough win.
For either one it would have been well deserved.”

Djokovic will play for a quarterfinal berth against Stepanek.

Witten, a Challenger circuit regular one step below the ATP, had never won a top-level match until this week and was just happy to get past qualifying after 10 failures in 11 prior Slam tries and a first-round US Open exit in 2006.

“I’m just happy to be playing,” Witten said. “I’m going to keep trying. I’ll play a few more weeks and see what happens.”

Among those scheduled for later Saturday were US number five seed Andy Roddick against giant compatriot John Isner and 10th seed Spaniard Fernando Verdasco against German veteran Tommy Haas. - AFP

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