Swiss legend came through his second tough examination in just 48 hours at Flushing Meadows
ROGER FEDERER pulled off a second five-set win in 48 hours to keep his US Open dream alive.
But the way Federer struggled to beat fellow 30-something Mikhail Youzhny 6-1 6-7 4-6 6-4 6-2 will give his rivals greater belief that he is struggling physically.
Youzhny, 35, broke Federer when he was serving for the second set and then went two sets to one up as the Swiss maestro’s error count mounted.
But just as against US teenager Frances Tiafoe in the first round, the 19-time Grand Slam champion found a way to win as Youzhny tired in the decider.
Federer has never in his career started a Grand Slam with two five-set matches.
And only Boris Becker, at the 1996 Australian Open, has gone on from such a start to win a Slam in the Open Era.
The question is whether Federer, 36, is fit enough to live with the stronger opponents to come.
No-one had given Youzhny a chance of troubling Federer, let alone beating him.
The match initially went to script, with Federer dominant and racing into a 5-0 lead.
The Swiss was also a break up in the second set and served for it at 5-4. But tennis nerds had spotted that his second serve speed had dropped considerably in the second set and his backhand was spraying errors around the court, suggesting his back problem was troubling him.
Youzhny broke back and then took the tiebreak to level the match.
The Russian smelt blood, and it wasn’t the garish pinky stain on Federer’s eye-offending kit.
Youzhny broke serve again in the fifth game of the third set and although his opponent saved two set points at 3-5, he confidently served it out for a two sets to one lead.
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Federer looked like a worried man and made a gesture of frustration towards his box.
But something seemed to click early in the fourth set. Youzhny gave up his serve tamely and Federer found himself serving for the fourth set.
Again, though, he faltered and Youzhny brought it back on serve – only to be broken himself to hand Federer the set and the advantage of serving first in the decider.
Youzhny pulled up with cramp in the third game but fought on, saving two break points in the next.
But Federer was not to be denied, taking the Russian’s serve in the sixth and again in the eighth to win in three hours and eight minutes.
Earlier the US Open had witnessed it’s longest ever women’s match, with Shelby Rogers delighting the home crowd by beating No 25 seed Daria Gavrilova 7-6 4-6 7-6 in three hours and 33 minutes.
Federer said: “These five-set battles are really quite a lot of fun.
“I feel quite warmed up by now. I haven’t played a lot of guys with cramp in recent years.
“The rules have changed, you can’t have the physio. It’s hard to watch. I was feeling, there, for Mikhail.
“We go right back to ’98 here playing in the juniors here. We’ve played a bunch of times. This was probably our best match.”