DUBAI, UAE February 28 – Grand Slam record-holder Roger Federer began his attempt to win a record fifth Dubai Open title with one of the strangest victories of his career.
The Swiss legend won 6-0, 7-6 (8/6) against France’s Michael Llodra in a match in which he won the first 11 points and then the first set in only 17 minutes, only to find himself set point down in the second.
Part of this schizoid quality was created by Llodra arriving late the night before from the Marseille Open final, starting slowly, and then ambushing Federer with some brilliant net attacks and a sudden leap in standard.
“I don’t know when was the last time that happened to me,” said Federer of a first set in which he conceded only seven points.
“After that I had to make sure I controlled Michael as much as I could because I know he is a dangerous player.”
So much so, that Llodra first had Federer break point down in the third game of the second set, a mini-crisis the second seed averted with a good serve, and then came from 2-4 down in the tie-breaker to hold set point at 6-5.
Federer saved that with a ferocious forehand drive winner and then two rallies later punished a Llodra second serve to close out the match.
He next plays another left-hander, Feliciano Lopez, the world number 15 from Spain, whom he played in the 2004 final here.
“He’s somewhat similar to Llodra, so I don’t have to adjust a whole lot, I don’t think,” said Federer. “At the same time, I know the danger of Feliciano. He’s had a great season.”
The winner could play Mardy Fish for a place in the semi-finals, though the American will have to beat Mikhail Youzhny, the Russian who got past another Frenchman Richard Gasquet, who was suffering from flu and retired after losing the first set 6-3.
Earlier the three-time Grand Slam finalist Andy Murray was made to struggle by a qualifier before surviving his opening match.
Murray, playing for the first time since almost halting Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of last month’s Australian Open in Melbourne, trailed 3-4 in the final set to Michael Berrer of Germany before coming through.
The third-seeded Scot admitted to being “frustrated” with his up-and down performance after sneaking through 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 against an increasingly ambitious world number 116.
Berrer became encouraged after Murray was unable to consolidate breaks of serve at 3-2 in the second set, and at 1-0 and 2-1 in the final set.
He became bolder and more aggressive, sometimes hitting fiercely angled drives, and more often charging the net to break up the rhythm of Murray’s high quality ground strokes.
Murray played a well-controlled and canny last three games to escape from the increasing danger, and afterwards complained of having felt unwell.
“I felt like I wanted to vomit – I don’t know if I wasn’t hydrated,” he said. “I was feeling really really bad. I was getting it after long points and after getting up from the change-over.
“I wasn’t drinking that much after the change-over in the third set and then I felt better.”
Another player seeded to reach the semi-finals here this week, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, also had to battle hard to get over the first hurdle, beating a fellow former Australian Open finalist, Marcos Baghdatis 7-6 (7/2), 6-4.
The world number five from France only arrived at midnight the evening before the match but twice recovered from 15-40 on his serve in the second set.
“I am confident about winning matches, and although I didn’t play well today, I fought and won,” said Tsonga, who next plays Lukas Rosol, the world number 96 from the Czech republic.