Federer reaches 3rd round in return at Australian Open
MELBOURNE: Roger Federer relied on his Grand Slam experience during the most important points to beat Noah Rubin 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3) on Wednesday, maintaining his record of never failing to reach the third round at the 18 Australian Opens he's contested.
After back-to-back wins over qualifiers, the degree of difficulty in his comeback from a six-month injury layoff will increase exponentially. Next up he faces former Wimbledon champion Tomas Berdych, who had a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison.
Also looming, potentially, is No. 5 Kei Nishikori, the 2014 US Open finalist, who set up a third-round match against Lukas Lacko with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jeremy Chardy.
Federer didn't play after his semifinal exit at Wimbledon last year, resting his injured left knee. He returned at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth this month, and opened at Melbourne Park with a straight-sets win over another 35-year-old veteran, Jurgen Melzer.
Against Rubin, a 20-year-old qualifier and former Wimbledon junior champion, the 17-time Grand Slam winner played the big points like the old pro that he is.
He broke Rubin's serve in the 12th game of the first set, dominated the second. Rubin had his chances in the third set, breaking Federer in the second game and having two set points on the Swiss star's serve when he led 5-2.
But Federer upped the tempo, winning four of the last five games to force a tiebreaker, which he dominated.
"I definitely got lucky winning that third set. He had a couple of set points on my serve," Federer said. There were, "a lot of difficult points, which is what I need."
US Open champion Stan Wawrinka advanced 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 over Steve Johnson, and No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Dusan Lajovic 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Defending champion Angelique Kerber celebrated her 29th birthday with a 6-2, 6-7 (3), 6-2 second-round win Carina Witthoeft.
The crowd sang her "Happy Birthday," although she wasn't entirely on song. The No. 1-ranked Kerber angrily swiped her racket in the second set in a burst of frustration that momentarily threw her off her game.
She had two double-faults in the tiebreaker, as Witthoeft leveled the match, but regained control in the third.
After skewing a forehand wide on match point, Witthoeft went to the net and gave her fellow German a kiss on each cheek. Kerber can celebrate, then get back to work on Friday against Kristyna Pliskova, who beat No. 27 Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 7-6 (8). Pliskova's twin sister, Karolina, lost the US Open final to Kerber.
"I'm always playing on my birthday — always in Australia," said Kerber, who had her major breakthrough here last year by beating Serena Williams in the final. "I feel like at home here. I'm 29. I'm getting older, but I think I'll have a great day today."
Speaking of age, Venus Williams had to field questions about getting older after energetic performance in her 6-3, 6-2 second-round win over Stefanie Voegele.
The 36-year-old, seven-time singles major winner played the first of her record 73 Grand Slam tournaments at the French Open in 1997. Back then, she got to play against the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova.
"It's an honor and privilege to start that young," she added, laughing, "and play this old."
Venus and Serena Williams, who have won 14 major doubles titles together, withdrew from a scheduled first-round doubles match later Wednesday, citing an injury to Venus' right elbow.
Venus thought she could manage the injury and play both singles and doubles, but decided she couldn't after her singles match went 83 minutes.
In the next round she'll play Duan Yingying, who beat Varvara Lepchenko 6-1, 3-6, 10-8. Two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Australian wild-card entry Jaimee Fourlis 6-2, 6-1 and will next play former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic, a 6-3, 6-4 winner of Julia Goerges.
Genie Bouchard, who reached the semifinals here and the Wimbledon final in 2014, had a 7-6 (5), 6-2 win over China's Peng Shuai. Alison Riske defeated No. 20 Zhang Shuai 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-1.
No. 11 Elina Svitolina had a 6-4, 6-1 win over US qualifier Julia Boserup to advance to a third-round match against No. 24 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over fellow Russian Natalia Vikhlyantseva .