Federer pulls off a miracle to keep clay dream alive

World No 2 comes back from two sets down against Haas to reach last eight

Any more of this and they will be offering smelling salts as well as cushions on the way into Philippe Chatrier Court. Less than 24 hours after Rafael Nadal made his exit from the French Open, Roger Federer went within five points of defeat against Tommy Haas here yesterday before recovering to win 6-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 and claim his place in the quarter-finals.

It was a stirring fightback, greeted with roars of approval from the crowd, but there was no disguising the fact that this was another scratchy performance by the former world No 1. Everyone else left in the tournament, including Andy Murray, will have drawn only encouragement.

When Federer went two sets down it was a good job that he was facing an opponent with a track record for letting victories slip from his grasp. This was the sixth occasion that 31-year-old Haas, a former world No 2 who is now No 63 in the world rankings, has let slip a two-set lead.

Federer, in contrast, is a past master at making improbable recoveries. He has now won from two sets down on five occasions, including here in 2001 against Sargis Sargsian, in Miami in 2005 against Nadal and in Melbourne earlier this year against Tomas Berdych.

Such a recovery, nevertheless, seemed unlikely when Federer served at 30-15 and 3-4 in the third set. Two forehand errors, the second a horrible miss when he had the court at his mercy, left Haas one point away from serving for the match. A superb winning forehand averted the crisis, however, and in the following game Haas hit a nervous volley beyond the baseline to give Federer the break he needed.

From that moment the match was a procession as the Swiss won 15 of the last 17 games, celebrating his victory with a roar and a giant leap into the air. The crowd, who chanted "Roger! Roger!" as he left the court, loved it. For all his record-breaking brilliance, Nadal has never been held in the same affection by the Parisian public as the Swiss maestro is.

It would have been hard to imagine Federer having to make such a recovery at the start of the first set tie-break, as he had won every point in his first six service games. However, the problem these days for the former world No 1 is not so much rediscovering his former brilliance as maintaining it. All the old skills are there – the driven forehand, the majestic one-handed backhand, the disguised serve, the punched volley, the dancing feet – but the mistakes have multiplied and the self-belief no longer appears rock-solid.

Attacking players always make a higher proportion of errors, but Federer's have been particularly noticeable. His forehand, once the most feared stroke in the game, can sometimes be almost a liability. Shanks and mishits are frequent and his inside-out shot was all over the place for periods yesterday. Seeing him hit it was like watching traffic thunder down an ice-bound motorway.

"I was struggling throughout the first two and a half sets from the baseline," Federer admitted afterwards. "I was serving all right, and that was keeping me in the match. Again, the swirling winds made it hard for both of us to keep the ball under control, especially as we both play so offensively. The rallies were always going to be short.

"I almost thought that the shot I hit on break point in the third set was my first good shot of the match. I knew the significance that shot would have, because I knew if I came out of that game I could create some later opportunities. I knew I was going to look back on that shot. It saved me on the day."

Federer insisted that Nadal's defeat, which has opened up the opportunity for him to win the one Grand Slam title that has eluded him, had not distracted him, though he admitted that for players in the Spaniard's half of the draw "their heads must be spinning right now".

He said that Nadal's exit "just shows that we're all human" and added: "We all lose at some stage yet people always make it sound so simple. They say that for the last five years it's normal that he wins on clay, I win on grass, and then we share the hard courts. But that's not the way it is. I speak with first-hand knowledge, knowing what it takes to dominate. I think he has already known that for a while as well."

Juan Martin del Potro ended Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's hopes of winning on home soil, winning 6-1, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4. In the quarter-finals the Argentine will play Tommy Robredo, who beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.

Serena Williams, having struggled earlier in the tournament, coasted into the quarter-finals, dropping only three games against the Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak. She will now play Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, who beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.

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