Federer returns to form


Perhaps that No. 2 in front of Roger Federer's name made Maximo Gonzalez believe he had a shot at knocking off the four-time defending U.S. Open champion.

Not so fast, Maximo.

For a while in the first set, Federer couldn't shake Gonzalez, who was making his Flushing Meadows debut Tuesday night. No easy task any time, but way worse to get your feet wet against the man that had been ranked first in the world for 41/2 years until last week.

"One or 2 is always pretty much the same thing," the 27-year-old Federer said of his seeding. "The change I feel is fans are really supporting me and telling me I'm still No. — and still the best."

Federer ran off wins in 10 straight games over three sets to turn a competitive match into the rout everyone expected. It took only — hour, 22 minutes for Federer to look familiarly fearsome in a dominating 6-3, 6-0, 6-3 win.

Quite a difference from James Blake's five-set win on Monday night that wrapped up Day — of this U.S. Open at 12:35 a.m.

On the women's side Tuesday, No. — seeded Ana Ivanovic bounced back from an injured right thumb that forced her to skip the Beijing Olympics and beat Vera Dushevina 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 in the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the morning.

Ivanovic shook off the second-set misstep and avoided becoming the first top-seeded woman to lose in the first round of the U.S. Open.

No. 4 seed Serena Williams advanced to the second round with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Kateryna Bondarenko during the day, and sister Venus &

seeded seventh &

got the night session off to a rousing start by eliminating Samantha Stosur 6-2, 6-3 and setting the stage for Federer.

After the early intrigue when Gonzalez was even 3-3 in the opening set, the mismatch became evident. Federer held serve, broke Gonzalez for a 5-3 edge, and closed out the set on his racket.

Another break of Gonzalez's serve at the start of the second put the wheels in motion for Federer's shutout middle frame. He earned yet another break to begin the third set, giving him 10 consecutive game wins &

a run that was snapped when Gonzalez tied it at — by winning on Federer's serve.

"It was a good match to start off with," Federer said. "I never saw my opponent before, that was the tricky part."

Federer barely broke a sweat and it wasn't only because the match was played in somewhat blustery conditions on an unseasonably cool August night.

Decked out in a pewter shirt with red accents on the collar, Federer played things close to the vest early against the 25-year-old Gonzalez, the 118th-ranked player who never took part in a Grand Slam event until this year's French Open.

Gonzalez was successful with a serve-and-volley game that produced multiple winners hit behind Federer. Other than their resumes, there was nothing to predict the onslaught that was coming.

Down 3-4 and serving, Gonzalez won a challenge that ultimately produced an ace and got him to 15-all, but Federer converted his third break point of the game when Gonzalez double faulted.

Always an audience favorite, Federer never felt crowds turn on him when he was on top &

even in New York where fans routinely root for five-set matches and gutty underdogs.

"I think I have a great appeal to many fans around the world," said Federer, behind only Rafael Nadal in the rankings and Open seedings. "Maybe because I speak so many different languages and I'm so international I have a bit of an advantage. I'm not sure."

Now that he's No. 2, maybe Federer suddenly qualifies as the guy with the challenge to win &

12 Grand Slam titles notwithstanding.

Federer found lines on both sides of the court with precision and benefited from a ball that clipped the top of the net and still found an open unreachable space. When Federer fired a second-serve ace and then induced Gonzalez to fire a shot into the net for a 4-0 lead in the middle set, a sympathetic groan of "Awwww" came down from the crowd in support of Gonzalez.

"I thought the other guy played good for the pressure he was under," Federer said of Gonzalez. "I went on a great roll. The only thing I look back on that was a little bit unfortunate was that I was not able to stay ahead with the break in the third set."

Spoken in the self-critical way that only a champion could utter.

In earlier play, sixth-seeded Dinara Safina, No. 9 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 13 Agnes Szavay and No. 16 Flavia Pennetta won in the women's draw. Anna-Lena Groenefeld beat No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova.

No. 13 Fernando Verdasco, No. 14 Ivo Karlovic and No. 15 Tommy Robredo advanced to the second round in men's play. Tommy Haas beat No. 12 Richard Gasquet 6-7 (3), 6-4, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, and Sam Querrey eliminated No. 22 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.

Andy Roddick, the last U.S. Open champion before Federer started his streak of four in a row, is scheduled to headline Wednesday night's action with a first-round match against Fabrice Santoro.

Federer eased into the second round of his first tournament since losing the top ranking to Nadal after 237 straight weeks at No. 1. Not since the 2004 Australian Open had Federer been seeded anything other than first at a major.

"I look at the draw maybe a little different," Federer said. "I have to start from the bottom, but that's OK."

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