MELBOURNE, Australia Roger Federer ambled to the net, slowly shaking his head. He let out a deep sigh.
The defending champion had escaped, and he knew it after five demanding sets. It was that kind of day at the Australian Open for Venus Williams, too. Her escape, however, came with screaming, wincing pain.
Williams injured a muscle between her stomach and groin Wednesday as she twisted for a volley. She needed a medical timeout after losing the first set. She was on the verge of tears, and apparently elimination. But she refused to stop playing, something she never has done in a Grand Slam match.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner rallied to take the next two sets and defeat Sandra Zahlavova of the Czech Republic 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-4.
Federer faced a more familiar problem Gilles Simon. Hes one of only three men on the tour with a winning record against the Swiss great. Federer raced to a two-set lead in a second-round night match and seemed in the clear.
Then Simon, who beat Federer twice in 2008 on hard courts in their only two previous encounters, started to take more risks, moving the 16-time Grand Slam champion out of his comfort zone. But Federer persevered, finishing off a 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory on his fifth match point.
Im happy I survived a scare like (Wednesday). Its not the first time ... it does happen, he said. You just try to stay calm even though Im not playing for much. Hes playing for the huge upset, and Im just trying to get through. But, look, I handled it well (Wednesday night), and Im very happy that things turned out so nicely at the end.
In the third set, Federers reliable forehand started to falter. In the fourth, the shots that usually touch the lines were missing. The shoulders started slouching. Simon is no pushover he has beaten Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and been ranked as high as No. 6.
Well, Im stressing out at this point, obviously, Federer said in an oncourt interview.
In the fifth, Federer recovered. But even when he had triple match point on Simons serve, he couldnt finish it off immediately.
I was like, This cant be true, right? Federer said. Ive had some tough losses last year. Obviously, theyre in the past, and Ive had a wonderful last six months. But sometimes it just doesnt seem to go your way. I really had to play an extremely good game to close it out. Obviously, I was quite relieved.
Its been 31 major tournaments, dating to the 2003 French Open, since Federer failed to reach the third round at a Grand Slam.
Look, at the end of the day Im happy Im through, he said at a news conference. Thats what it comes down to. Doesnt matter if you win in straight or in five. Just keep on moving on in the draw and give yourself an opportunity ... stay alive and feel good.
With defending champion Serena Williams sidelined because of an injured foot, the womens draw is wide open. And clearly among the contenders is sister Venus Williams.
Williams, seeded fourth, is confident shell have recovered from her injury, acknowledging that in a tense match things can get a bit hysterical.