Federer Advances to US Open Fourth Round With Auto-Pilot Turned Off

Conor McCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 02:  Roger Federer of Switzerland serves against Simon Greul of Germany during day three of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2009 in Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

With 15 Grand Slams as well as the French Open under his belt, Roger Federer can be easily forgiven for his lack of motivation in the first few rounds in a Grand Slam.

Today was no exception as he stuttered his way past an on-form Lleyton Hewitt, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.

Federer's performance was far from clinical, however the early signs did not suggest that this would be the case. Having broken Hewitt to take a 4-2 lead in the opening set, the match was going the way the previous 13 had suggested it would.

When beating Devin Britton and Simon Greul in rounds one and two respectively, Federer had that almost bored look to him, the look that we have all become accustomed to in tournament's earlier rounds. It's a look that I like to call auto-pilot.

Not only is it a look, but furthermore the way he plays, everything in his control, even the games that his opponents get, it's as if he is playing cat and mouse with them, and no doubt, he is the cat!

Even when we see maximum Resistance from the likes of Greul, he simply steps it up a gear, while maintaining his typical style of plodding around the court, barely looking around him, as if he doesn't care about the result.

However today was different. It seems the auto-pilot mode was turned off. This can simply be written off as one of those odd Federer performances where the concentration lapses almost due to boredom, or, the more cynical of viewers and critics may see this as perhaps partly down to the fact that he now has two children on board. Has he been doing too much nappy changing in the middle of the night? Is Mirka no longer in the best of form every morning?

These are all hypothetical questions such is the efficiency of Federer's ability to keep his private life truly Private.

All we can judge Federer on is what we see on the court.

Having gone up 40-0 in his service game at 4-2, Hewitt hit a stunning backhand pass to get to 40-15 and effectively turn this auto-pilot mode off as Federer made miss hit after miss hit. He didn't win another game in the rest of the first set as Hewitt, playing some of his best tennis, stormed to a one set advantage.

Early in the second set Federer was relying on Hewitt's misses on break point opportunities, with still far too many wayward forehands, to his growing frustration.

Then, the break came Federer's way, but all was not perfect as he struggled his way to a set a piece, 6-3. Once more avoiding break points at 5-3.

In a tightly contested third set, which still contained many uncharacteristic Federer misses, the two appeared to be just about equal. However Federer stepped it up at just the right time and broke at 5-5. He then served it out to take a two sets to one lead and finally find some rhythm.

He then broke early in the fourth set and it proved to break the back of the match, eventually closing the set and match out 6-4, despite Hewitt pulling back one of two service breaks.

In the end, it seems the biggest threat to Federer not advancing to round four may have been his slip in the third set. Hearts stopped for the short and rare interval that Federer lay on the ground. However it was huge relief for everyone when it appeared that the panicked look on Federer's face was only because he was going to lose the point.

"I just had to believe I could turn this around," Federer said, and he did.

He came through in an uncomfortable four sets which included , but it shouldn't act as a catalyst for his opponents hope, as very rarely do we see two such matches in a row, especially not in Grand Slams.

Federer next faces the winner of Tommy Robredo and home favourite James Blake.

Talking about the prospect of facing either men, Federer had to say,"Well, I guess Tommy (Robredo) would be easier in terms of the crowds but I think both of them are good enough to give me a run for their money, I think James (Blake) could be just a touch more dangerous with him believing more in his chances, but I look forward to watching their match later!"

No doubt he's confindent and no doubt he'll be ready to step it up, and one has too feel that his next opponent will have to face the hard task of turning auto-pilot off.

Federer may have slipped today, but the predicted result didn't.