Melbourne, Jan 19 (AFP) Reigning champion Roger Federerwas taken to five gripping sets by French nemesis Gilles Simontoday before scraping into the Australian Open''s third round.
The world number two, defending his only remaining GrandSlam crown, was pegged back from two sets up before scoringhis first-ever win over Simon, 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, tostay on course for his fifth Open title.
It was a desperately close call for the 29-year-old, whoholds a record 16 Grand Slam titles and only narrowly avoidedhis worst performance at a major in eight years, and hispoorest ever Australian Open outing."Today I got lucky to go through," a relieved Federersaid.
"He''s a great player. Matches against him don''t come easyand they always go the distance. Hopefully I won''t play himany more!" he laughed.
Federer had lost both his previous matches in 2008 withSimon, who remains one of only three active players -- alongwith Rafael Nadal and Britain''s Andy Murray -- with a winningrecord against the all-time Grand Slam record-holder.
The Swiss was powerless against Simon''s laser-guidedgroundstrokes in the third and fourth sets but recovered tofind the crucial break with his famous forehand and aced thefifth match point after huge tension at Rod Laver Arena.
Federer is bidding to become only the second man to winfive Australian Opens after six-time champion Roy Emerson, andthwart arch-rival Nadal''s bid to unite all four Grand Slamtitles for the first time in 42 years.
Serbian third seed Novak Djokovic also had difficultiesin his ethnically- charged clash with Croatia''s Ivan Dodig.
Djokovic, who won his only major title here in 2008, let slipa set before winning 7-5, 6-7 (8/10), 6-0, 6-2.
The match was played under a heavy security presence butthere was no repeat of violence between ethnic Serbian andCroatian fans which has repeatedly hit the season''s firstGrand Slam.
Earlier Venus Williams bravely battled through a painfulmuscle strain to reach the third round, women''s top seedCaroline Wozniacki finally hit form and Spain''s FernandoVerdasco survived another five-set thriller. MORE AFP SSC