Clijsters’s impressive come-back continues as she makes the last sixteen

NEW YORK: Top seed and defending champion Roger Federer reached the last 16 of the US Open on Saturday, rebounding from a sluggish start to defeat Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

The win assures Federer of retaining the World No. 1 ranking no matter who wins the title here.

But it was far from vintage Federer as he looked listless and unfocussed at times against an aggressive Hewitt who was looking to end a 13-game losing streak against the Swiss, dating to the 2004 Australian Open.

Undulating fortunes

Hewitt, clawing his way back up the rankings after falling out of the top-100 in February, had the first look at a break when he went 40-love up on Federer’s second service game.

Five straight points from the Swiss star dismantled that threat and three games later Federer showed how it was done by converting his first break point to take a 4-2 lead.

The five-time defending champion was coasting at 40-0 in the following game, but a couple of loose shots let Hewitt back into the game and another misdirected forehand gifted him the break back.

Unusually, Federer was playing under the hot midday sun in the first match up on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court and it did not appear to agree with him as he served up another sloppy game to give Hewitt a second break.

The Australian then clinched the set on serve thanks to three more unforced errors from Federer. It was the first set he had taken off him in two years.

The fight-back

Federer, though, started to right his ship at the start of the second set and ominously broke to love in the fourth game and then held his own serve to love to take a 4-1 lead.

Hewitt had a break point with Federer serving for the set at 5-3, but hit a backhand marginally long and then a fortunate net-cord and a strong first serve from the World No. 1 levelled the set scores.

A stabbed backhand volley into the net gave Hewitt a break point in the second game of the third set but he over-hit his forehand return on the next point and Federer held on.

Federer needed to save three more break points two games later as he continued to struggle with his normally deadly forehand.

But against the run of play it was Federer who made the vital breakthrough in the 11th game when Hewitt started to make unforced errors under increased pressure from the Swiss player.

He then served out for a two sets to one lead and then, with Hewitt’s game beginning to unravel, he grabbed the remaining break he needed to open the fourth set.

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.

Hard work for Nadal

After sweating through a match that was more difficult than expected, Rafael Nadal finally broke through on Friday night to book his place in the third round of the U.S. Open.

Clinching a marathon third-set game that gave him a break, he hit his winner, pumped his fist three times and shouted “Vamos!” An hour later he had beaten Nicolas Kiefer 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 and completed a clean sweep for the top 16 players at the U.S. Open.

They are 32-0 through two rounds, the first time that’s happened in the 41-year history of Open-era Grand Slam tennis.

“A very good practice for me, no?” Nadal said. “To play in three hours is a very good test. At the same time, it’s important. The first day, I didn’t have any bad moment, any pressure moment. Today, I had to do more.”

While Nadal welcomed a tougher test as he makes his way back from knee tendinitis that forced him to skip Wimbledon, the display raised questions about whether the Spaniard can win the title here.

“He was getting a little bit tired,” Kiefer said. “I could see it, I could feel it. He didn’t move so good. But, a win is a win, a loss is a loss.”

On the women’s side, Kim Clijsters set up a fourth-round match with No. 3 Venus Williams, looking good on Friday against Belgian compatriot Kirsten Flipkens in a 6-0, 6-2 victory. . — Agencies

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