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ATHENS 2004

Federer Loses Only His Cool

World's top-ranked tennis player advances to second round, but only after struggling with his temper and Russia's Davydenko.

August 17, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — Roger Federer, usually cool, calm and composed, huffed and puffed his way into the second round of the Olympic men's singles tennis tournament Monday night.

In the end, Federer got back on his game in the third set and blew down the house of Russia's Nikolay Davydenko, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. The world's No. 1 player said, though, that getting past the undistinguished journeyman was a big deal.

"It's actually the best I've beaten Davydenko," a relieved-looking Federer said. "After two times I've played him, I beat him, 7-5 in the third. This is a hell of an improvement. I'm happy about it."

On paper, this looked like a mismatch. Davydenko ranks 56th. He's never gotten past the second round of a Grand Slam event and has never won a singles match at Wimbledon. Federer has won three majors, including the last two Wimbledons. Davydenko has won 19 matches this season. Federer had won that many before the ice had thawed in his native Switzerland.

Still, like the cream sauce on pasta that always produces heartburn, Davydenko continued to be a pain for Federer, bringing out some of the worst in both his tennis and behavior.

The trouble in both categories began when Federer struggled to put away the first set. He missed two chances on break points at 2-5, then served for it, only to see Davydenko, a human backboard, save three more set points before finally succumbing when his return of Federer's ill-advised drop shot just missed.

Federer had been lucky, he knew it, and things seemed to fester in the second set.

Davydenko got out to a 3-0 lead as Federer slapped a ball in anger all the way to the roof, where it stuck, visible in the rafters. He later smashed his racket to the ground after another uncharacteristic miss. Then Davydenko caved in to 3-3 when Federer suddenly started to serve and volley.

Federer served for the match at 5-4, but the serve-and-volley approach backfired on set point, when Davydenko took Federer's first volley and sent a winning backhand down the line. Federer stayed in his funk when he served at 5-6, netting a lazy forehand on set point and continuing to look angry at the world.

But he calmed himself before the third set and went through Davydenko like water through a sieve, winning 24 of the last 29 points.

Federer said his anger began when he failed to convert a break point in the first game of the second set.

"That's when everything started to happen," he said. "I got frustrated, threw my racket once, you know, then the ball went."

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