Great escape puts Federer in third round

Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand in his second round match against Gilles Simon of France during day three of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 19, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (GETTY IMAGES)

Defending champion Roger Federer survived a five-set thriller to overcome Frenchman Gilles Simon and squeeze into the third round at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Federer had to pull out all stops to get past the unseeded Simon, winning 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 in 3hr 13min on Rod Laver Arena.

The Swiss world number two had cruised to a two-set advantage, but Simon, who had won their only other two encounters, hit back spectacularly to take the contest into a fifth and deciding set.

Federer was relieved to escape with a five-set victory and prevent his worst Grand Slam performance since a first-round loss at the 2003 French Open.

"Today I got lucky to go through," Federer said.

"He's a great player. Matches against him don't come easy and they always go the distance. Hopefully I won't play him any more," he laughed.

Federer will next play Belgium's Xavier Malisse in Friday's third round.

Federer's victory equalled Swede Stefan Edberg's record (56-10) for the most Open Era wins at the Australian Open. Federer now has a 56-7 win-loss record at Melbourne Park.

The all-time Grand Slam champion with 16 major titles is bidding to become the second man to win five Australian titles behind six-time winner Roy Emerson.

Federer showed his intent from the outset, breaking Simon's service twice early to take a grip on the opening set with precision volleying and deep serving.

Simon, who along with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray are the only active players to hold a winning record over Federer, was under pressure from the Swiss onslaught and could do little to prevent him from seizing the opening set in 35 minutes.

Federer was relentless and broke Simon in the first and fifth games of the second set before Simon finally got his first break point in the sixth, and broke back when Federer shanked a backhand.

But the Swiss broke Simon's serve in the ninth game to take a two-sets to love lead.

Federer's sublime form suddenly dipped in the third set and Simon got a triple service break to lead 4-1 before the Swiss second seed broke back, but the Frenchman served it out to take the third set.

Simon was on a red-hot streak and broke the Swiss in the ninth game and took the match into a fifth set before an excited crowd after claiming the fourth set on his second set point.

Federer had to fight for his life to keep the 34th-ranked Frenchman and his big forehand at bay and made the crucial breakthrough in the sixth game with a forehand pass down the line.

Simon fought off three match points on his service in the eighth game, before Federer served it out clinching it on his fifth match point with an ace.

Simon had been in superb form leading up to the tournament winning the Sydney International last week and reached the second round at the Open with a four-set victory over Taiwan's Lu Yen-Hsun.

Simon only played four events in the first half of last year due to a right knee injury and was part of the French team that lost to Serbia 3-2 in the Davis Cup Final in December.

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