Söderling kicks off Aussie Open run with win

World number four Robin Söderling credits a more relaxed approach for turning around his Grand Slam performances and raised hopes of going deep in the draw at the Australian Open after winning his first match.

Söderling kicks off Aussie Open run with win

Fourth seed Söderling achieved his first objective by safely negotiating the opening round after he dispatched Italy’s Potito Starace, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 for only his third win in six matches at the season-opening major.

Söderling is a much-improved player as a runner-up at the last two French Opens and quarter-final appearances at last year’s Wimbledon and US Open.

The Australian Open represents Soderling’s worst Grand Slam of the four and he equalled his best result by reaching the second round on Tuesday, where he will now play Gilles Muller of Luxembourg.

However, Söderling is coming into this year’s Australian Open in career-best form and looked the part as he swept put the 48th-ranked Starace in one hour and 34 minute on Margaret Court Arena.

“I had some problems with the Grand Slam tournaments in the beginning of my career. It’s over two weeks and you always have one match, then you have the next day rest, so it’s tough to stay focused for two full weeks,” he said.

“Every day, you have to be able to relax between matches and I think that’s what I have learned over the last couple of years. I think that’s why I had more success in these tournaments,” he added.

Söderling said he is now relaxed and rested between his matches.

“You spend a lot of energy in five-set matches, even if you win in straight sets and you really have to recover between the matches. I do it really good now,” he said.

Söderling has reached the quarter-finals or better at the last three Grand Slam events for the first time. He began the new season with a win over Andy Roddick in the final of the Brisbane International, which led to him reclaiming the fourth world ranking.

“I’m not fearing anyone. I know that when I play well, I can beat everyone. But the same time, I really have to play well because last year it really showed, when I didn’t play well at all and I lost in the first round,” he said.

“You really have to stay focused in every match. For me that’s the most important thing,” he added.

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Roger Federer relieved after getting past ‘mirror’ Evans

Defending champion Roger Federer reached the Australian Open third round for a 20th straight year Wednesday but admitted it had been tough to get past his 'mirror' image Dan Evans.

Roger Federer relieved after getting past 'mirror' Evans
"Playing a player like Dan Evans is like facing myself," the 37-year-old Federer said after his match against the Brit. Photo: AFP

Britain's world number 189 slowed the Fed Express to a crawl, keeping the Swiss master battling for more than two hours to win the opening two sets before finally succumbing 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who is gunning for a record seventh Melbourne Park title and third in a row, admitted he had been given an unusual challenge by the 28-year-old, who plays a similar style of tennis.

“Playing a player like Dan Evans is like facing myself,” the 37-year-old Federer said. 

“It feels like playing a mirror a little bit. That was my mindset heading into it — how would I play myself potentially?”

Evans, whose ranking plummeted from a career-high 41 after he was slapped with a year-long ban for testing positive to cocaine in April 2017, played almost flawless tennis to stave off a set point on his way to forcing a first set tie-break.

He even had the temerity to lead 5-3 in the breaker before Federer stepped up a gear and reeled off the next four points to secure the set with a cry of “Come on!”.

“It always helps when you sneak a break in the first set,” said the Swiss star after a ding-dong contest lasting 2hr 35min. “The match might have been different.”

Federer said he had expected Evans to cause him more problems than when he cruised through their previous Grand Slam meeting at Wimbledon in 2016 for the loss of just eight games.

“I have high regard, you know, in Dan. I think he's a good player. I've seen him play some really good matches over the years, I see why he can cause difficulties,” he said.

“He's got a nice slice, defending the court well. He has the variation, which is always a hard thing to play against.

'Cat and mouse'

“He was very sort of cat and mouse. I liked the match. It was enjoyable.”

The loss of the first set after exactly an hour was harsh on Evans who had committed only two unforced errors and constantly put the third seed under pressure with his scampering, attacking game and flurry of winners off both wings.

The plucky Evans, who had covered acres of ground and found the lines unerringly, needed treatment for blisters on both feet before the second set started and immediately was broken.

But he refused to lie down and broke back as Federer served for the set to force another tie-break.

“I thought I might have pulled away midway through the second set,” added Federer. “But I couldn't, to his credit. He played well.”

The Swiss great hasn't often needed luck during his unparalleled career but he took advantage of some in the third set to finally ease the pressure.

Holding break point at 2-1, he barely scooped up a half-volley which grabbed the net cord and toppled over forcing Evans to go long.

A service game to love followed to put Federer 4-1 up and the brave resistance of Evans was finally broken.

The veteran will play unseeded American Taylor Fritz in the last 32.