The Rod Laver Arena: The current centre of the tennis
universe [AFP]
Roger Federer was forced to work hard at the Australian Open as he was forced to repeatedly rally from behind before finally outlasting 49th-ranked Janko Tipsarevic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-1,10-8 to advance to the fourth round of the tournament he has won the last two years.

Tipsarevic, who has never has reached a singles final, played the match of his life and gave Federer everything he could handle with the packed crowd screaming on every point.

"I went on court with the idea that I can win,'' the Serbian player said.

"I was close. I lost because he was better in the important moments of the match.''

Federer, seeking his 13th Grand Slam crown, needed every one of his personal best 39 aces, 14 more than his previous mark in one match, to fend off the third-round challenge from the 2001 Australian Open junior champion.

"I don't often get to play five-setters unless they're against Nadal at Wimbledon,'' Federer said of his rivalry with long-time No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal.

"It was good to be part of something like this. It's a pity you can't have draws in tennis.''

He beat Nadal in five sets in the Wimbledon final last year.

Federer has reached the finals of the last 10 Grand Slam events, winning eight of them and losing two to Nadal, both at the French Open.

The world number one was untouchable in his first two matches, dropping only six games in six sets.

He had numerous chances to take control, but Tipsarevic saved 16 of 20 break points against him until Federer finally cashed No. 21 after rallying from 40-0 as the Serbian served at 8-8 in the fifth set.

"I had to block out all the chances I missed,'' said Federer, who next faces No. 12 Tomas Berdych, a four-set winner over No. 21 Juan Monaco.

"He came up with some fantastic plays and played me well.''

Tipsarevic said his strategy was simple.

"Be aggressive, and then try to make him work for the points that he's winning.

"Against Roger it's so hard, because he's playing every point. Even when you're up like 40-0, the game is far, far from over.''

Blake bounces back

James Blake, seeded 12th, came back from down two sets, then from a double break in the fourth before beating veteran Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 7-6 (5), 6-2 to keep American hopes alive after Sam Querrey fell to No. 3 Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

"That's got to be my biggest comeback,'' Blake said. "Couldn't have been a better feeling.''

Seventh-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, who lost the final here last year to Federer, was ousted 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-1 by Croatia's Marin Cilic, who had never gone past the first round in three previous majors.

Cilic, who called it his best performance, faces Blake next.

Two of Russia's top 10 women also were ousted.

No. 2 Svetlana Kuznetsova was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by 18-year-old Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland and No. 6 Anna Chakvetadze lost 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-2 to No. 27 Maria Kirilenko.

Fourth-seeded Ana Ivanovic reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 28 Katarina Srebotnik.

Venus advances

Venus Williams marches on [AFP]

As she did during her last match, eighth-ranked Venus Williams started slow but played her best when she needed it most in beating No. 31 Sania Mirza.

Mirza broke early and served for the first set at 5-3, only for Williams break back.

The Indian star fended off two set points while serving at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker, where Williams was at her best, refusing to drop a point.

Williams had five aces in the second set when she dropped only seven points in five service games. She broke Mirza to pull ahead at 4-3, then held serve the rest of the way.

While a few Serbian flags were scattered about Rod Laver Arena, the roof was closed due to rain that postponed matches on outside courts, Federer fans dominated, including one holding a sign reading "Federer Express.''

The Swiss star was nearly derailed before extending his winning streak at Melbourne Park to 17 matches, tied for fourth-best behind Andre Agassi's record of 26 in a row.

Federer, who last lost a set here while beating Marcos Baghdatis in the final two years ago, started in top form again, ripping seven aces in his first four service games.

But the Serbian, looking like a grad student in his dark-rimmed glasses and short beard, forced a tiebreaker, where the only point that went against serve came with Federer facing set point at 5-6.

Tipsarevic ripped a forehand crosscourt pass that dropped just inside the corner.

The Serbian then fended off five break points in the second set before faltering in the tiebreaker.

He rallied from 15-40 while serving at 4-5 in the third set, then broke in the next game as Federer lost two aces to successful challenges by Tipsarevic, who then held for the set.

As he has done so often, Federer seemed to find an extra gear, running off five straight games to take the fourth set and level the match.

Tipsarevic refused to yield, saving two break points while serving at 2-2 in the deciding set, then a match point at 8-8 before Federer nailed a sharply angled backhand volley winner to take the last break.

Federer held for the match when Tipsarevic netted a backhand to end it in 4 hours and 27 minutes.

Federer shouted in relief as he pumped his fist.

Source: Agencies