MONTE CARLO, April 23, 2008 (AFP)
Roger Federer narrowly escaped complete humiliation on Wednesday when he came back from 1-5 down in the final set to
beat Spanish qualifier Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo at the Monte Carlo Masters.
The world number one was within two points of a famous defeat before he carved out a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7/1) second round win over the battling world number 137 who twice had the opportunity to serve for the match.
In complete contrast, second seed, and triple defending champion, Rafael Nadal cruised through his first claycourt match of 2008 reeling off the first eight games against Croatia's Mario Ancic in a 6-0, 6-3 win.
It was triple French Open champion Nadal's 108th win in his last 111 claycourt matches.
Federer's astonishing close call will do nothing to dampen speculation that the great Swiss could be on the verge of serious decline.
So far this year, he has lost his Australian Open title, went out in the first round in Dubai and failed to make the finals at either the Indian Wells or Miami Masters.
Even his one trophy came via default when Nikolay Davydenko was forced to retire with an injury in Estoril to hand Federer, who was also laid low by glandular fever earlier this year, his 54th career crown.
"It was a bit of a grind," said Federer, the runner-up here for the last two years, who next meets Frenchman Gael Monfils.
"I hung in there, hoping for a better spell where I would make fewer mistakes and hope that everything would come together at the right time.
"I felt a little slow and he played so bad in the first set that he almost faked me out.
"I'm disappointed with the way I played. I came here late after Estoril where the conditions were different. It was a lot windier there so when you come here you need time to adjust.
"But I've played six matches on clay this year and won six."
The top seed romped through the first set with breaks in the second and sixth games.
However, Federer, went spectacularly off the boil being broken in the second game of the second set on his way to trailing 0-3 and then having to save two more break points in the fourth.
But the Spaniard still went on to level the match when the Swiss went long with a service return.
Federer, who committed a huge 54 unforced errors in the tie, dropped serve twice in the decider to fall 0-4 down.
The 30-year-old Ramirez Hidalgo had chances to serve for the match at 5-2 and 5-4 but twice he choked as Federer fought back to 5-5.
The world number one's greater experience told in the tie-break as he completed his recovery when Ramirez Hidalgo hit long after 2hrs 03mins on court.
Nadal broke Ancic in the second and fourth games in a one-sided first set in which Ancic managed just six points.
The Croatian quickly slipped to 0-2 down in the second before finally getting on the board in the third game, but Nadal comfortably progressed to his third career win in four meetings with the former Davis Cup winner in just 76 minutes.
Nadal now faces compatriot Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2002 and 2003 champion.
"I'm very happy because it was my first match on clay in a long time and it was a tough draw to play Mario. He's one of the big players," said Nadal who now has a 20-1 career record in Monte-Carlo
"Now I play Ferrero. I have to take my chances to have a good win." Russian fourth seed Davydenko moved into the last 16 with a 6-2, 7-6 (7/5) win over Italian qualifier Simone Bolelli.
But two seeds made injury-enforced exits.
Russian eighth seed Mikhail Youzhny quit with a neck problem after dropping the first set against compatriot Igor Andreev while Argentinian 11th seed Juan Monaco was 6-2, 3-0 down against Spain's Nicolas Almagro when he also pulled out with a hand injury.
Also going through to the last 16 were fifth seed David Ferrer, David Nalbandian, seeded six, and seventh seed Richard Gasquet.



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