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No. 1 displays his own flair
Roger Federer doesn't bring the fans to the edge of their seats, but with one between-the-legs shot he reminds everyone of his place in the world order.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 2, 2006
NEW YORK - Add one more shot to Roger Federer's all-encompassing arsenal: the on-the-run, behind-the-back, through-the-legs volley.
He hit it perfectly, naturally.
Trying for his third straight U.S. Open championship, Federer reached the third round Friday with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 win over Tim Henman.
Federer took the court 11 hours after Andre Agassi's palpitating victory over Marcos Baghdatis on the same court. Ranked No. 1 and widely regarded as one of the best players ever, Federer won in rather routine fashion.
Except for that one sensational volley.
Caught between steps, Federer skipped to his right, reached around his back and zinged a shot between his knees. Henman seemed surprised and, with both players already smiling, Federer smacked a winner to close the fourth game in the final set.
"Rarely do you try this type of shot in a match," Federer said. "In practice, it happens all the time. But to come and pull it off on center court, you have to make sure you're not doing something totally stupid or you don't look like an idiot."
Henman said, "There's not a lot you can say at that stage, apart from laugh."
In other early matches played before the rain arrived and canceled the evening session, Tampa's James Blake, seeded fifth, defeated Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5). Women's second seed Justine Henin-Hardenne rallied past Ai Sugiyama 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 and former Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Anastassia Rodionova 6-3, 6-0.
Federer was ready for a full day, only he preferred it was at night.
"You have a more electrifying atmosphere," he said. "The conditions were tough today. Breezy, chilly, early."
Federer, like many people straggling into Arthur Ashe Stadium, stayed up late to follow Agassi.
"I watched it till the end. Fantastic. Loved it," he said. "I get nervous myself watching this stuff, like a fan. Get cold feet. I was in the bed, going under the blanket almost."
"I enjoyed last night's match so much, I wouldn't mind playing five sets myself," he said.
Henman began the day with a 6-5 career record against Federer, tied with Rafael Nadal among active players for the most wins against him. Federer evened the series, beating Henman for the fifth straight time.
Even when Henman thought he had Federer, he didn't. Like on that one superb shot.
"I actually hit what I thought was going to be a perfect volley. He's actually then in the wrong position," Henman said. "But because he has no time to think about it, it was just a split-second reaction, but he executed it fairly well.
"Funny shots happen. It's not really something that you can plan. It is such an instinctive thing," he said. "I've played behind-my-back volleys and stuff, but not like that."
Federer admitted he was surprised at how well it turned out, startling the fans and drawing applause, though not at the volume Agassi generated.
"I knew I didn't move properly to the ball and the next thing I knew, it was between my legs. The only option was the one shot I hit," he said. "He almost gave up because he thought my shot was too good, which was good fun."