Federer puts Kiefer away in march to defend title

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As in the third round at Wimbledon, the 28-year-old German levelled the match by winning a second set tie-break and continued to nag at the world No 1, only to lose in four sets.

Federer, who prevailed, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, found himself a break down at the start of each of the first two sets ­ Kiefer won the shoot-out, 7-3 ­ and saved a break point before securing the third set. Federer broke for 2-1 in the fourth set en route to the quarter-finals, where he will play either David Nalbandian, the 11th seed, or the unseeded Davide Sanguinetti, of Italy.

Finnish sportsmen tend to go far, especially if they run marathons or drive Formula One and rally cars. Jarkko Nieminen is about to become the first in the history of his nation to hit tennis balls in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament. The 24-year-old left-hander from Masku is due to play Lleyton Hewitt, the third seed.

In advancing thus far, the 57th-ranked Nieminen has beaten Karol Beck, of Slovakia, Bjorn Phau, of Thailand, Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, and Fernando Verdasco, the Spaniard who took advantage of Tim Henman's ailing back in the first round. Playing Hewitt, the 2001 champion, is a different proposition, as Nieminen knows, having lost to the Australian twice in 2002, at the Cincinnati Masters and the Paris Masters.

While the Finn was breaking new ground yesterday with a 6-2, 7-6, 6-3 win against Verdasco, Hewitt was busy breaking Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, winning his fourth-round match, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, after an hour and 34 minutes.

Hrbaty was asking for trouble in the locker-room for wearing a shirt with two holes in the back and persuading a ball-boy to smear them with sunblock. Hewitt kept the jokes running yesterday by finding even more holes in the Slovak's game.

"I just couldn't lose to a bloke wearing a shirt like that," Hewitt said.

There are three Americans in the same quarter of the lower half of the draw, with Robby Ginepri emerging in the early hours of yesterday to join his compatriots Andre Agassi and James Blake, who are due to play against each other today. Ginepri, ranked 46, having defeated the fatigued Richard Gasquet, of France, in five sets, now plays the eighth-seeded Guillermo Coria, of Argentina.

As was the case with the 18-year-old Briton Andy Murray against the Frenchman Arnaud Clement in the second round, Gasquet, 19, played brilliantly, only to run short of gas and lose the final set 6-0. "I could tell at the end of the fourth set that he didn't look like his normal self," Ginepri said after winning, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-0, after three hours.

When trapped in the spotlight of home expectation on the red clay at the French Open, Mary Pierce and Amélie Mauresmo have a tendency to turn into frozen rabbits. It will be fascinating, therefore, to see how they react when they meet on the blue concrete here for a place in the women's singles semi-finals.

The 30-year-old Pierce, who could barely hold her nerve long enough to keep a ball in play when losing to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the final at Roland Garros in June, was a competitor transformed in defeating the Belgian in the fourth round, 6-3, 6-4.

The third-seeded Mauresmo had a comfortable 6-1, 6-4 victory against the 29-year-old Russian Elena Likhovtseva.