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Suzuki puts scare in Federer

by James Mulligan

With nothing to lose, Takao Suzuki played one of the games of his life. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t quite good enough against the world No. 1.

News photoTakao Suzuki receives applause from spectators as he leaves the court after losing to Roger Federer 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) in the quarterfinals of the Japan Open on Friday at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.
KYODO PHOTO

Japan wild card Suzuki pushed Roger Federer all the way in their quarterfinal at the AIG Japan Open on Friday before the top seed prevailed 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).

Federer struggled to get to grips with Suzuki’s brilliant first serve and sliced backhand throughout the three sets, but the Swiss star’s own service game — he hit 15 aces — spared his blushes against the 1,078th world-ranked player as he comfortably won the third-set tiebreak.

As strong winds and heavy rain swirled around outside of Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum, Suzuki whipped up a storm inside as he broke Federer to go 2-1 up in the first set and then held his serve to win 6-4 to the roars of a heaving crowd clearly behind the underdog.

The second set went with serve until Federer won with his first set point at 6-5 and the final set once again went with serve up to 6-6 before Federer raced to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak and Suzuki’s resistance was finally broken after 2 hours, 4 minutes.

Federer will play against either Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen or Germany’s Benjamin Becker (match scheduled for later Friday) in the semifinals on Saturday.

The steely-nerved Federer said the fear of going a set down and losing to such a lowly ranked opponent made him dig deep for the win.

“There’s always the fear of losing when you are a set down. It’s a normal feeling, but you try to think of ways of getting back in front,” the 25-year-old said.

“It was a close match for both players and we were both holding serve comfortable. The guy (Suzuki) is out of the top 1,000th but that’s not his true position.”

Suzuki was making his first appearance in an ATP singles tournament this year because of a shoulder injury, which has badly affected a world ranking that has hovered near the top 100 in the past.

“I could see the headlines: Federer loses to guy out of the top 1,000, and that’s not much fun. (The win) saved my image,” Federer said.

Federer beat Suzuki in their only previous meeting 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the 2005 Australian Open first round.

With a swagger in his step Suzuki really did look like he had nothing to lose, although the manic fist-pumping after each point he won perhaps was a better indicator of how much Federer’s scalp meant to him — not that he would admit to it.

“Victory for me didn’t really matter, I was just happy to get to the tiebreaker,” Suzuki said. I didn’t really have a game plan, I just got caught up in the moment and am happy to have played so well today. I’ve gained a lot of confidence from playing him.”

The 30-year-old Suzuki, playing at the Japan Open for the 12th straight year, rocked tournament debutant Federer with an excellent service game that didn’t go unnoticed by his opponent.

“His serve is incredible for a little guy,” Federer said. “And his movement made it hard for me. He mixed his serve up very well and maybe I shouldn’t be happy at not making a lot of returns . . . I had to dig deep to break him.”

Women’s No. 2 seed Ai Sugiyama lost to Taiwan’s Yung-Jan Chan 6-3, 6-4 in their quarterfinal match.

In women’s second-round matches Friday, Junri Namigata beat Argentina’s Paola Suarez (2-4 retired). Aiko Nakamura topped Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain (5-2 retired).

Other second-round winners were France’s Marion Bartoli and Camile Pin and American Jamea Jackson.

Also Friday, Tim Henman, the No. 10 seed, and last year’s runnerup, Mario Ancic, won men’s third-round matches.