ROGER Federer continues to look something other than the US Open favourite as he battled to a tense five-set victory in his second match of the tournament.
After needing five sets to move past rising American talent Francis Tiafoe in the first round, the Swiss maestro found himself in another dogfight with Mikhail Youzhny.
Both players were injured and the standard of tennis was some of the ugliest we've seen from the 36-year-old, but he was still good enough to win through to the third round in New York.
It's the first time in Federer's career he's started a grand slam with back-to-back five set matches.
"These five set battles are actually a lot of fun. I feel quite warmed up by now," Federer said in his on-court interview after the match.
Federer now boasts a perfect 17-0 record against the former world number eight from Russia, whose ranking had slumped to 101 before today's encounter.
After breezing through the first set 6-1, Federer dropped the second in a tie-breaker (7-3) and the third set 6-4 to be one set away from elimination.
Federer was on the brink of a disaster he's never experienced before. A loss to Youzhny today would have been the first time ever the Fed Express has succumbed before the third round at Flushing Meadows.
In a continuation of his opening round woes against Tiafoe, Federer's famous backhand was letting him down badly today. Five winners were outnumbered by 26 unforced errors on the backhand wing in his tournament opener, and at one stage against Youzhny he had four backhand winners to go with 21 unforced errors.
But the fourth set went Federer's way as Youzhny wilted. The Swiss maestro took a 4-1 lead as the Russian called for the trainer to deal with what looked to be cramp.
The veteran was dealing with a sore back in New York, which was likely contributing to his backhand woes.
Federer's return game was off, struggling to counter Youzhny's serves with any meaningful power. "I just don't get it," one ESPN commentator said. However, he was fortunate Youzhny's injury was clearly hampering his serve and Federer broke him right back to take the fourth 6-4 and send the match into a decider.
The standard of tennis was far from pretty, but the contest was engrossing. Both players missed shots they'd normally make and took poor options, but it was a memorable win for Federer for the grit he showed if not his usual fluency.
Federer left the court at the end of the fourth - presumably for treatment - but came out to take a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Youzhny held his opening service game of the set but looked like he was in real trouble when he went down clutching his right leg in the third game. He was on his backside grabbing at his hamstring for about 15 seconds but bounced back up to the appreciation of the packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Youzhny was having real trouble covering the court on his forehand side, but Federer didn't exploit his opponent's physical frailty as much as you'd expect. He chunked a forehand that went well wide when he had a break point to go up 3-1, then missed another chance to take a two-game lead with another unforced error.
Youzhny showed real guts to stay in the game and eventually held serve to level things up at 2-2 when another clunky Federer forehand missed the mark. All up Federer made an astonishing 68 unforced errors to Youzhny's 55.
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