Spotlight on Federer as he begins US Open bid

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Roger FEDERER showed that time was still on his side as the Swiss master rang the closing bell on yesterday’s opening day at the US Open tennis championship with a quick victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The third seed, who turned 30 earlier this month, completed a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over 56th-ranked Colombian Santiago Giraldo.

The 106-minute sweep was the first step in Federer’s quest to add to his grand slam record of 16 men’s singles titles with a sixth US Open crown. A sixth title in New York would also break his tie with Jimmy Connors and Pete Sampras for the most since tennis turned professional in 1968.

“It was a great atmosphere, great ovation when I walked out,” said Federer. “I really enjoyed it.

“It’s always one of those moments I guess you train for – the first night at the US Open.”

Federer had little trouble disposing of clay court specialist Giraldo but the Swiss was not at his precision best, committing 35 unforced errors. Federer said the new surface at Flushing Meadows played slower than before and that he consciously had decided to work on coming to the net in the match.

“As the match went on, I think I started to get more solid and better, and that’s a good feeling to have,” he said.

Federer, who is also eyeing an Open victory to extend a remarkable string of winning at least one grand slam title in eight straight years, said playing at night provided a sort of sweet pressure.

“They can’t wander around to different courts,” the World No.3 said about knowing that all eyes at National Tennis Center nights were fixed on the marquee match.

“No avoiding the limelight. You do feel that pressure as well. When you miss a stupid volley, you go like, ‘Yeah, everybody saw it. I’m a bit of an idiot right now. Better not miss that next time because on TV everybody’s watching.’”

The Open is Federer’s last chance to add a 2011 slam victory to his prodigious CV after losing to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals in Australia, finishing runner-up to Rafa Nadal at the French and falling in the quarter-finals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon.

Federer next plays Israeli Dudi Sela, who battled back from two sets down to beat Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil.

Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova became the first reigning Wimbledon champion to lose in the first round of the US Open in the Open era while third seed Maria Sharapova was given a stern test by British teenager Heather Watson before coming through in three sets. Czech fifth seed Kvitova has had a difficult time since beating Sharapova in the final at the All England Club in July, winning only two matches, and she looked shaky from the start against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania at Flushing Meadows.

In contrast, World No.49 Dulgheru played a very solid match and, after breaking Kvitova to lead 5-3 in the second set, she served out a 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 victory to love.

Sharapova, meanwhile, fought back from a set and a break down to defeat gutsy Watson 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that lasted two hours and 34 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

After holding her nerve to serve out the opening set, 19-year-old Watson battled back from 4-1 down in the second set and then recovered from 3-0 in the decider, but it was not to be.

Sharapova said: “She just came out and played really smart. There’s no doubt that I wasn’t playing my best tennis. She was smart in making me hit another ball. I was making so many errors out there.”

It was Watson’s first appearance in the main draw at the US Open, two years after she won the junior title.

She said: “I had a lot of fun today. It’s what I want to do. I want to be out there on the big courts playing the top players. It was a really great match, very competitive. We played some really great tennis.”

Second seed Vera Zvonareva eased past qualifier Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France 6-3, 6-0. fellow seeds.