Federer keeps on rolling

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2005

MELBOURNE, Australia — Top seed Roger Federer earned his career-best 24th straight victory on Friday when Jarkko Nieminen was force to retire from the third-round match at the Australian Open because of an abdominal muscle tear.

Federer led 6-3, 5-2 and had just broken Nieminen's serve for the third time in the set when the 25-year-old Finnish player winced, clutched his right side and told the umpire he couldn't continue.

Federer won 11 titles in 2004, including three Grand Slams. He opened 2005 with a title at Qatar — the 23rd of his career — and hasn't lost since the second-round of the Athens Olympics last August.

Nieminen broke Federer's serve in the opening game. He did it again in the fourth game of the second set, but a clean backhand, cross-court winner from the 23-year-old Swiss star in the next game set the tone for the remainder of the match.

Marat Safin picked himself up after twisting his right ankle and overcame hard-serving Mario Ancic 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the fourth round.

The fourth-seeded Safin, who lost to Federer in last year's Australian Open final, led by a set and a break when he twisted his ankle and fell on his face near the baseline while trying to return Ancic's winning forehand in the third game of the fourth set.

Safin got up, limped back to his chair and was treated by trainer Per Bastholt, who gave the Russian player a pill and wound more tape around his already heavily taped ankle.

Safin won his next service game at love with an ace, joking with a line judge who'd earlier called one of his serves wide.

He advanced on his second match point when the 28th-seeded Ancic couldn't handle a slice backhand and dumped a forehand into the net.

Ancic reached the semifinals at Wimbledon last year, upsetting Britain's Tim Henman in the quarterfinals, and was a tough, third-round opponent for Safin.

''It's difficult to have a game plan against him. He mixes it up so much,'' Safin said. ''You have to hang in there and wait for opportunities.''

Safin broke Ancic — who misfired with seven double-faults — once in each set and lost his service just twice in the second set.

Both players were demonstrative, criticizing themselves behind the baseline. Safin often kicked the ball, and knocked his head with his knuckles, trying to regain focus.

''It's a wake-up call,'' Safin said. ''Sometimes my head goes away and doesn't come back — I have to get it back here.''

French Open champion Gaston Gaudio needed treatment on both thighs during his 4 hour, 21-minute loss to Dominik Hrbaty.

Hrbaty broke Gaudio's serve, for the 10th time, and then served out for a 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-3 victory. Hrbaty hit 70 winners, while Gaudio had 48.

On the women's side, American Lisa Raymond couldn't overcome muscle strains in her back and had to retire after one game of her second-round doubles match.

She and Rennae Stubbs, who were seeded third, lost to Marion Bartoli and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

The WTA Tour said Raymond was being examined, and her status was in doubt for her third-round singles match Saturday against No. 3 Anastasia Myskina.

Second seed Amelie Mauresmo beat Serbian teenager Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 7-5.

The 17-year-old Ivanovic broke Mauresmo's serve twice in the second set, but dropped her next two service games. After having game point to force a second-set tiebreaker, Ivanovic struggled to combat Mauresmo's backhand and made a string of errors.

Mauresmo rose to the No. 1 ranking last September before slipping behind Lindsay Davenport. Ivanovic made the biggest leap in the rankings on the WTA Tour in 2004, moving 608 spots to finish at No. 97. She won her first title last week in Canberra.

The 25-year-old Mauresmo, a finalist here in 1999, is still looking for her first major title.

''It's a long way still, three matches down, four to go and some good players still in the field,'' she said. ''I'm happy with how things are going. Hopefully, I get closer and closer to the No. 1 spot.''

She next faces Evgenia Linetskaya, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over American Amy Frazier, seeded 21st.

In other matches, 15th-seeded Silvia Farina Elia cruised past British qualifier Elena Baltacha 6-1, 6-0.

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova was to face China's Li Na, and seventh-seeded Serena Williams was scheduled to meet Sania Mirza later Friday.

On the men's side, four-time champion Andre Agassi was to face fellow American Taylor Dent in a night match.

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