NEW YORK (REUTERS) - World No. 3 Roger Federer survived a first-round scare from Frances Tiafoe before grinding out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 victory over the American teenager in front of a raucous crowd at the US Open on Tuesday (Aug 30).
Federer looked more relieved than overjoyed when Tiafoe's forehand found the net on match point to keep his hopes of a 20th Grand Slam title alive.
"We had a good fight," he said in an on-court interview. "It was exciting and this is why I came to New York, to go through these emotions," he added with a laugh.
The 19-year-old Tiafoe broke Federer in the first game of the match and bellowed out a loud "Come on!" when his forehand winner found the line to capture the opening set.
Federer, who has won this year's Australian Open and Wimbledon since taking a six-month break last year, soon found his groove once he broke Tiafoe to take a 3-1 lead in the second set and reeled off nine of the next 10 games.
However, his poor form returned in a 23-minute fourth set when his serve and the accuracy of his trusty one-handed backhand completely deserted him.
Federer said Tiafoe could go on to have a big career. "He is a great player and has a bright future ahead of him," he said of the 19-year-old.
Despite coming away with the win, the shaky performance raises questions about the health of the 36-year-old Swiss, who sat out the Cincinnati Masters earlier this month with back pain.
He acknowledged that he was worried about his back going into the match but said he felt "much, much better". "This win will give me a lot of confidence," he said.
Federer next meets either Slovenian Blaz Kavcic or Russian Mikhail Youzhny and remains on course for a long overdue Flushing Meadows showdown with old foe Rafael Nadal.
World No. 1 Nadal had earlier dismissed Dusan Lajovic 7-6 (8-6) 6-2, 6-2 to ease into the second round.
While the year's final Grand Slam is only just underway, tennis fans have circled Sept 8 when, if all goes to form, Nadal and Federer would meet in the last four to decide a place in the final.
One of the great rivalries in sport, Federer and Nadal, twice a champion in New York, have clashed 37 times over the years but never have they stood across the net on Flushing Meadows' hard courts.
On French Open clay, Wimbledon's manicured lawns and in Australian heat, the Swiss maestro and muscular Spaniard have played for titles and while no trophy would be on the line, a New York meeting would still have the Big Apple buzzing.