KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - No. 2 seed Venus Williams successfully began her bid for a fourth Key Biscayne title Saturday.
Limited to just seven matches since July because of injuries, she double-faulted six times but beat Jie Zheng 6-4, 6-4.
“What I’m trying to do is stay healthy,” Williams said. “As long as I can stay healthy, I can practice, and as long as I practice, I can win matches.”
On the men's side, Roger Federer kept shanking shots. He sailed one forehand 20 feet long, popped another 80 feet high, blew a lead and found himself trailing in the third set.
Then the world’s No. 1 player rallied, winning the final three games and final six points Saturday night to edge Nikolay Davydenko 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in the second round of the Nasdaq-100 Open.
Battling gusty wind and recovering from an illness that curtailed his practice schedule, Federer committed 36 unforced errors, including a handful of ugly shots. He failed to convert five consecutive break-point chances in the final set before a forehand winner down the line gave him a 6-5 lead, and he then served out the two-hour match at love.
“Today wasn’t my best,” Federer said. “It was a tough one, and I didn’t think I was going to turn it around.”
While Davydenko came up short, Vince Spadea pulled off one upset and might be on the verge of another. Playing himself into contention for a spot on the U.S. Davis Cup team, Spadea beat Marat Safin 7-6 (7), 6-7 (4), 6-4.
The victory came on the heels of Spadea’s first tournament title in Scottsdale two weeks ago. At age 29, the 14-year pro would be an improbable choice for the Davis Cup squad that will face Sweden next month.
“It would mean a lot and would be a great thrill,” said Spadea, ranked 36th. “I’ve won two rounds here, you know. I haven’t won Wimbledon or anything. ... But I feel like I deserve a chance. If it’s not this time, maybe I’ll be ranked even higher the next time.”
He’s definitely on the rise. The title at Scottsdale came in his 223rd tournament. On Thursday, he beat countryman James Blake, who played Davis Cup last year. And his smart, steady baseline play stymied Safin, the runner-up in the Australian Open last month.
“Coming back for a good win like this is just great timing after the momentum I had from Scottsdale,” Spadea said. “If I was to represent my country, I would prove worthy with the results I’m having right now.”
Andy Roddick, who will lead the U.S. team against Sweden, showed he’s ready for Davis Cup — and perhaps a title run in Key Biscayne. Seeded No. 2, he overpowered Karol Beck 6-2, 6-4.
Roddick aced Beck with a 147-mph serve, which tied for the fourth-fastest ever and was 3 mph shy of the record Roddick set in January. He needed just four strokes to win one game, all aces, and finished with 14.
No. 4 Andre Agassi, bidding for his seventh Key Biscayne title, had only one unforced error in the first set and beat Mariano Zabaleta 6-0, 7-6 (1).
Joining the 31st-seeded Safin on the sidelines were six other seeded men: No. 11 Mark Philippoussis, No. 13 Sjeng Schalken, No. 15 Martin Verkerk, No. 18 Gustavo Kuerten, No. 22 Albert Costa and No. 23 Feliciano Lopez.
Philippoussis lost to qualifier Jan Hernych 6-4, 6-2. Schalken was defaulted for the first time in his 13-year career for verbal abuse trailing Guillermo Canas 6-1, 3-0.
Davydenko, a Russian ranked 54th, made an unlikely candidate to mount an upset bid. He came into the tournament 3-7 this year and has a career record of 1-14 against top-10 players.
He offered little resistance until the second set, when he broke serve in the opening game to reverse the momentum. Federer began to struggle and said he felt fatigue after battling a fever that kept him off the practice court until Friday.
“I didn’t have confidence in my forehand,” he said. “I couldn’t hit three or four balls in a row.”
Helped by some shaky shots down the stretch from Davydenko, Federer pulled out the win and improved to 23-1 this year. He’ll put a 12-match winning streak on the line Sunday night against 17-year-old Spanish left-hander Rafael Nadal, touted as a future star.
The meeting will be their first.
“I think he has already proven that he’s a great player,” said Federer, 22. “All he needs is time. He’s a very quiet guy and confident on the court. I felt the same way at his age.”
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