Federer, Djokovic, Roddick advance; Safin ousted

NEW YORK -- Andy Roddick smashed his racket not once but twice, leaving it a mangled mess that matched the state of his game at that point.

Facing a big deficit, staring at what would have been a big upset, Roddick suddenly changed everything against a younger, less-experienced, less-accomplished version of himself at the U.S. Open.

Roddick, the 2003 champion, used a seven-game run after trailing by a set and a break to come back and beat unseeded Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 at the hard-court Grand Slam tournament in a second-round match that began Friday night and finished after 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Four-time defending champion Roger Federer clawed his way into the third round with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over stubborn Brazilian qualifier Thiago Alves.

Third seed Novak Djokovic also reached the third round, taming big-hitting American qualifier Robert Kendrick 7-6 (8) 6-4, 6-4, while former champion Marat Safin traded booming groundstrokes with Tommy Robredo for three sets before fading to a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-0 defeat by the 15th-seeded Spaniard.

"Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day," Safin, the 2000 champion, said. "Today I was struggling."

Like Roddick, Gulbis relies on a powerful serve and stinging forehand, two key strokes that allowed the 40th-ranked kid who has never won a tournament title -- much less a major championship -- appear on the verge of a breakthrough victory.

Also like Roddick, Gulbis is prone to mental lapses. As much talent as Gulbis has -- he did, after all, reach the fourth round at last year's U.S. Open and the quarterfinals at this year's French Open -- he has yet to show any consistency. That is why he entered this match with a 32-34 career record.

There's one other, coincidental, thing they have in common: Both players celebrated birthdays Saturday, Roddick turning 26, Gulbis 20. In truth, of course, only Roddick was able to celebrate fully.

"He was definitely outplaying me for the first two sets. I felt like a little kid out here playing against him," Roddick said. "And then the clock struck 12, and I started playing, well, as a 26-year-old."

As Roddick struck the ball better and better, the frequency of Gulbis' winners dipped while the frequency of his errors rose substantially.

Roddick gathered himself after taking out his anger on his racket when two groundstroke errors allowed Gulbis to break for a 4-3 lead in the second set. Soon after it was 5-3 for Gulbis, who then got to serve for a two-set lead at 5-4.

At 30-all, with Gulbis having gone 14-for-15 on points at the net until then, Roddick smacked a forehand passing shot on the run to earn a break point. The American might have had reason to doubt his chances there, given that he was 0-for-4 on break points so far. But Roddick finally came through when Gulbis sailed a forehand long.

"I was disappointed in the second set. I think I should have finished it," Gulbis said. "I wouldn't have won the match already. But it would have been a big step."

Instead, Roddick took seven straight games to take control.

Gulbis dictated play throughout and ended up with far more winners, 79 to 42, and unforced errors, 60 to 21. But the eighth-seeded Roddick never faced a break point in the third or fourth set.

"Tonight was probably one of those ones I won on effort," Roddick said.

He's had a tough season, having lost in the third round of the Australian Open, pulled out of the French Open because of a right shoulder injury and then bowed out at Wimbledon in the second round.

Roddick bypassed the Beijing Olympics, hoping to be better prepared for the U.S. Open by staying on this side of the world. His U.S. Open nearly ended quite early, but he credited the partisan crowd with helping.

"You guys kept me in there when I was losing my head," Roddick told the Arthur Ashe Stadium fans at match's end. "If this crowd comes with me the whole way, who knows?"

World No. 2 Federer produced an uncharacteristic 46 unforced errors in the 2-hour, 14-minute affair but denied he had a difficult time.

"I was never really in danger, so it was actually pretty good for me," Federer said. "I knew the longer the match would go the more tired he would get."

Federer had 19 aces and lost his serve only once but clearly needs to improve his form if he is to become the first man since Bill Tilden in 1924 to win five successive titles here.

"I was struggling to see the ball at the net a little bit with the crowd in the back," said Federer, who played Alves in the cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"In the second set when it got tough, he dug out some shots and everything seemed to go against me," he said.

The 137th-ranked Alves was playing his first tour-level event of the year and only the 10th of his career. He said Federer, overtaken recently by Rafael Nadal as the world's top-ranked player after 237 weeks atop the throne, was as good as advertised.

"When Federer slips a little bit, he reaches the finals of the Grand Slams every time," said the 26-year-old Alves. "He is the biggest player for sure. Nadal is playing good tennis this year but for me, Federer is the best one."

The Swiss will face Czech Radek Stepanek, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-2 winner over Australian Chris Guccione, in the third round and remained on track to face Djokovic in the semifinals of the year's final Grand Slam.

Federer's play at the net against Alves was spotty and his groundstrokes erratic, but the 12-time Grand Slam champion chuckled when asked if his game was slipping.

"I guess we're talking about it today and if I win the title you forget about it again," he said. "That's usually how it goes."

Djokovic, runner-up to Federer last year, saved two set points in the first-set tiebreak before eventually clinching a hard-earned victory.

Feeding off the crowd, Kendrick went for broke at every opportunity and hit back from 6-2 down in the tiebreak to force two set points, only for Djokovic to shut the door with some stout defense.

One break gave him the second set and another in the opening game of the third ended Kendrick's hopes as Djokovic eased through to a meeting with Croatian 30th seed Marin Cilic, a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 winner over American Robby Ginepri.

The Louis Armstrong Stadium match between Safin and Robredo was twice interrupted in the second set by rain and Safin squandered opportunities to seize the advantage.

Leading 3-2 in the second-set tiebreak he lost five of the last six points as Robredo won it 7-4 to level the match.

"If I would have won the second set, I should have won the match probably," said Safin, who also triumphed at the 2005 Australian Open before tumbling down the rankings to his current No. 44.

Safin, 28, battled the Spaniard on serve in the third set before errors began to seep into his game and Robredo broke him in the 10th game for a two sets to one lead.

That seemed to take the life out of Safin, who went down meekly in a 24-minute fourth set.

"The rain was going on and off and I couldn't get into the game. I missed a few points in the tiebreak," he said.

"The third set was very close and the fourth set I lost it completely. It just slipped away and that's it," said the fiery Russian, who in moments of frustration slammed his racket to the ground and smashed balls against the back curtain. "Too much frustration in the second and third set."

Safin failed to follow up his spirited run at Wimbledon, where he reached the semifinals before falling to Federer.

"One good result throughout the year, I don't think you're hoping for something bigger," Safin said about not carrying any expectations into Flushing Meadows.

Instead, Safin found himself pushed around the court by the pin-point topspin forehands and cut backhands from Robredo, who advanced to a third-round match against 19th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 winner over Carlos Moya.

The demoralized Russian said he would not stick around in New York to cheer for his sister Dinara Safina, who could claim the world No. 1 ranking with an Open triumph.

"No, I'm going home. I've had enough already," said Safin. "I've been here for too long. I need to go home."

Other seeded players to advance were fifth-seeded Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Agustin Calleri 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2); No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez, who defeated American Bobby Reynolds 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4; No. 13 Fernando Verdasco, who held off Rui Machado 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-0; 18th-seeded Nicolas Almagro, who rolled past American Sam Warburg 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; No. 23 Igor Andreev, who defeated Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-3; No. 26 Dmitry Tursunov, who rallied past Victor Hanescu 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; and 31st-seeded Andreas Seppi, who held off Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Gilles Muller and Jarkko Nieminen each rallied from two sets down to win. Muller, who once beat Roddick at the U.S. Open and Nadal at Wimbledon, defeated Tommy Haas 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-3, and Nieminen topped Ivo Minar 6-7 (2), 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.