How,
oh how, oh how? That was the only question after Germany’s former world
No. 2, Tommy Haas, took Roger Federer to five sets at Melbourne Park
last night.

Anybody watching the first two sets would have bet
everything they owned on a straight set result. Federer had snatched
the first set with one break point opportunity, and then danced through
the second set, 6-0.

One shot was dazzling. A set up and now at
2-0 in the second, Federer cracked a deep return off Haas’s serve. Haas
fired back a respectable forehand, deep enough with plenty on it, and
Federer poker-faced, looked down the backhand line, swung and sweetly
cracked the most outrageously angled cross court forehand to the
opposite line.

It was a shot that few players in history would
dare attempt and Federer almost yawned after it landed. In the
commentary box, John Alexander and Jim Courier – a former No. 1 and no
slouch, but dogged, not an artist – could merely laugh. Finally
Courier, watching the replay, which showed the angle of the strike and
how far inside the line this outrageous winner had somehow been, sighed
and said: “That’s pretty good.”

It looked like a knock-out blow
yet Haas scrapped and hustled and somehow turned the match around,
eventually losing 6-2 in the fifth. It was a heroic performance that
will give the German heart that he can be top five again.

Sadly for
the rest of the field, Federer being forced to really slug it out on a
relatively cool night will only sharpen him up for the journey ahead.
Federer always looks most vulnerable when he is in cruise-control and
drops his guard. Now, with last night’s scare pumping his blood, he’ll
be fully charged.

David Nalbandian would appear to be the most
likely man left in the draw to threaten him, but the reality is that if
Federer can rediscover the touch and inventiveness of last night’s
second set, he’s in a class of his own.

Peter Fray

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