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Roger Fed­erer over­comes slow start and late lapse to edge teenager at Open

Roger Fed­erer al­ready has dropped two more sets at the U.S. Open than he did dur­ing his en­tire two weeks en route to the ti­tle at Wim­ble­don.

Wor­ried about a re­cent back prob­lem that kept him from get­ting ready the way he usu­ally does for a Grand Slam tour­na­ment, Fed­erer had to over­come an early deficit and a late lapse Tues­day night to edge 19-year-old Amer­i­can Frances Ti­afoe 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in a com­pelling firstround con­test un­der the Arthur Ashe Sta­dium roof.

"I didn't have the prepa­ra­tion I was hop­ing to get," Fed­erer said. "I al­ways knew I was go­ing to come in feel­ing rusty or not great."

The No. 3-seeded Fed­erer, whose most re­cent of five cham­pi­onships at Flush­ing Mead­ows came in 2008, got bro­ken in the first game and dropped the open­ing set of the topsy-turvy match. He then ap­peared to take con­trol by grab­bing eight of nine games to seize the sec­ond and third sets. But he let that lead slip away. There was more trou­ble when Fed­erer served for the match lead­ing 5-3 in the fifth and got bro­ken.

"I was quite up and down," Fed­erer said, ac­knowl­edg­ing that he was cau­tious with his foot­work and had some trou­ble see­ing the ball prop­erly.

Ti­afoe's take: "He won by the skin of his teeth."

Fed­erer's ini­tial match point came at 5-3, 40-30, but Ti­afoe staved that off, then broke. He pro­duced a cross-court fore­hand win­ner at an un­be­liev­able an­gle to earn the chance, be­fore con­vert­ing it with a ter­rific fore­hand pass­ing win­ner down the line. Ti­afoe roared and pumped a fist and sprinted to the side­line for the changeover.

When he had to come back out and serve, Ti­afoe was a bit flat. Fed­erer wasted his sec­ond match point with a net­ted back­hand. On the third — with Fed­erer's wife, Mirka, cov­er­ing her eyes in the stands — Ti­afoe hit a stum­bling fore­hand into the net.

"In these best-of-five-set matches," Fed­erer said, "you have a lot of lives some­times."

It was Fed­erer's 79th ca­reer vic­tory at the U.S. Open, equal­ing An­dre Agassi for sec­ond-most. Only Jimmy Con­nors has more, with 98.

Fed­erer played with the roof shut at Ashe for the first time. He missed last year's tour­na­ment, when the re­tractable cover made its de­but, be­cause he took off the sec­ond half of 2016 to let his sur­gi­cally re­paired left knee and a bad back fully heal.


SUR­VIVAL OF THE FITTEST. Roger Fed­erer was deal­ing with a back prob­lem that slowed him down in his first match at the US Open against a teenager. How­ever, ex­pe­ri­ence pre­vailed and he over­came a bad back and a gritty teen to ad­vance to the next round.

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