MELBOURNE, Australia — Playing the biggest match of his young career, Noah Rubin pushed Roger Federer before falling to the 17-time Grand Slam champion, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (3), early Wednesday in the second round of the Australian Open at Rod Laver Arena.
Rubin, 20, from Merrick, broke Federer to take a 2-0 lead in the third set and later led 5-2 and had a set point with Federer serving in the eighth game. But Federer held and then broke back to pull within 5-4.
The players held serve the rest of the set, forcing the tiebreak, With Federer up 4-3 and the tiebreak on serve, Federer made a leaping backhand volley to take a two-point lead and then went up 6-3 when Rubin double-faulted.
A forehand winner by Federer ended the match. Federer’s serve proved to be a major weapon as he had 17 aces to two for Rubin.
“I definitely got lucky winning that third set. He had a couple of set points on my serve,” Federer said. There were “a lot of difficult points, which is what I need.”
After back-to-back wins over qualifiers, the degree of difficulty in Federer’s comeback from a six-month injury layoff will increase exponentially. Next up he faces former Wimbledon champion Tomas Berdych, who had a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over Ryan Harrison.
Also looming, potentially, is No. 5 Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, who set up a third-round match against Lukas Lacko with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 win over Jeremy Chardy.
Federer didn’t play after his semifinal exit at Wimbledon last year, resting his injured left knee. He returned at the Hopman Cup exhibition in Perth this month, and opened at Melbourne Park with a straight-sets win over another 35-year-old veteran, Jurgen Melzer.