NEW YORK -- Defending champion Roger Federer stuttered into the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday with a 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 victory over Belgian Olivier Rochus, the 27th seed.
The top seed struggled for his rhythm but clinched victory in just under two hours to move into the Round of 16 without dropping a set.
He will now play German Nicolas Kiefer, the only man to take a set off him during his run to the Wimbledon title this year.
"We played tough matches at Cincinnati and Wimbledon," Federer said of Kiefer. "He's improved a lot in the last few months and I expect it to be a tough match."
Federer took advantage of one service break to win the opening set. He recovered from an early break down in the second set and then came back from a 4-1 deficit in the
tiebreak to win it 8-6.
That relaxed Federer and he broke Rochus twice in the final set to seal the victory.
Meanwhile, former U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt barely escaped the same fate as French Open champion Rafael Nadal.
A day after James Blake knocked the No. 2 Nadal out in the third round, American Davis Cup teammate Taylor Dent came close to ousting the third-seeded Hewitt in a five-set thriller Sunday in the same round at the U.S. Open.
Dent, best known for his role as the hitting partner of the cute actor son of Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in a TV commercial, wasn't acting when he produced some of the best tennis of his career before going down to Hewitt, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 7-5.
The Australian Hewitt, the 2001 champion and last year's runner-up to Federer, was pressured constantly by Dent's net charges and 19 aces in a classic match between a baseliner and a serve-and-volleyer.
Hewitt also suffered from his own poor serving -- eight double-faults, including at least one in each of the five games he was broken.
The match seesawed for more than three hours before coming down to a few points that could have gone either way. Hewitt secured a break to 4-3 in the fifth set and then was broken himself when he double-faulted twice and made two unforced errors. John McEnroe said on CBS, "There's a guy who rarely, if ever, beats himself. He completely choked on those last four points."
Dent, who served at up to 141 mph in the set but had trouble with consistency all day, held to 5-4 to move within a game of winning. But Hewitt held and then broke Dent with a forehand pass after the American's 10th double-fault.
Leading 6-5, Hewitt went to four match points and fended off one break point with the help of a 127 mph serve, his fastest of the match, before winning with a 114 mph ace up the middle after 3 hours, 21 minutes.
"It was extremely tough conditions. It's swirling out there today," Hewitt said. "Taylor's never going to give you the match. He's a tough competitor. I had to earn it."
The No. 25 Dent, an American with an Australian father, former pro Phil Dent, beat Hewitt in straight sets on a hardcourt in his hometown of Adelaide early this year. Hewitt won their meeting in the round-of-16 at Wimbledon two months ago. With Sunday's win, Hewitt has won five of their six matches.
Hewitt next plays No. 15 Dominik Hrbaty, who beat No. 17 David Ferrer 6-7 (7), 7-5, 7-5, 7-5.
Dent was left to think only about what might have been if he had won a few key points when he held the lead in the fifth set.
"It's disappointing, but it's actually more frustrating than anything else," Dent said. "I feel like I lost that match for the same reason I've lost 99 percent of matches over the last year and a half or so. My serve just really let me down today.
"It's a bit of a bummer, but I just have to take it on the chin and keep working on it."
Dent has great promise but has been struggling with his consistency for a long time.
"I can go serve four aces one game and then come out the next game ... and have a couple of double-faults," he said. "Unfortunately for me, it's the most important shot I have to have for my game and also my most stubborn shot. I've had a lot of tutelage on my serve over the years. I've tried pretty much everything there is to try. ... It just kind of seems like a Band-Aid effect."
Finland's Jarkko Nieminen also grabbed a spot in the fourth round by knocking off No. 30-seeded Max Mirnyi 6-3, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3.
"I'm very satisfied with how I've played here," Nieminen said. "There are only 16 players left. It's a great feeling."
Nieminen's next opponent will be Fernando Verdasco of Spain, a 6-1, 4-6, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4 winner Sunday over Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
"He's a very talented player," Nieminen said of Verdasco. "He has the potential to be a really good player. I have to play well to beat him."
It will be a battle of the only two left-handers left in the men's singles. And it is the first time a player from Finland has reached the fourth round at a Grand Slam since Nieminen did it at the French Open two years ago.
Only one other Finn, Veli Paloheimo at the 1990 Australian Open, has advanced this deep in a major tournament.
Mirnyi, from Belarus, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon, snapping a string of seven consecutive first-round losses at Grand Slam events, including on the hard courts at the National Tennis Center in 2003 and '04.
Against Nieminen, Mirnyi served 21 aces. But the steady Finn was much better off the ground, making only 17 unforced errors while pounding out 58 winners. Mirnyi committed 43 unforced errors.
Nieminen dominated from the backcourt, hitting 20 forehand winners and 28 from the backhand side. Mirnyi, on the other hand, won most of his points, 28, at the net.
"He put a lot of pressure on me," Nieminen said.
Besides being delighted with playing in the second week, Nieminen is excited about the way he's playing.
"It's my best match here and I feel like I'm playing better," he said. "I have played better this year, and I feel better, on and off the court."
Davide Sanguinetti won the longest and perhaps most exciting match of the tournament so far, beating Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) in 4 hours, 24 minutes. The last two sets alone each took more than an hour.
"I thought to myself, 'This is the last set. If I lose, I go home,'" said Sanguinetti, an Italian who was an All-American at UCLA. "I want to keep playing a couple more matches if I can. That kept me going."
When he hit an overhead smash for the win, the 33-year-old dropped his racket and collapsed onto his back while the crowd at Louis Armstrong Stadium saluted both players with a standing ovation. Sanguinetti got to his feet with a wide grin on his face
and shook his fists in triumph before going to the net and hugging Srichaphan.
"Maybe they like me so much, the way I played, the way I fought," said Sanguinetti, the second-oldest man left in the tournament after Agassi. "Even though I lost the second and third sets, I said if I keep playing like this, maybe I have a chance."
As long as it was, the match wasn't close to being a record. Stefan Edberg needed 5 hours and 26 minutes to beat Michael Chang in the 1992 semifinals.
The match didn't start out as anything extraordinary, with Sanguinetti taking the first set in a mere 29 minutes. By the time it was in the fourth set, though, it was clear something special was happening. Fans filled the stadium, and hundreds of others crowded around large screens outside to watch.
"I think it's one of the best matches I've played," Srichaphan said. "I think we both had fun and were enjoying it. ... We played our best tennis and enjoyed the match and enjoyed the moment."
At one point, Srichaphan fell to the ground on his back and tapped his thigh with the racket, trying to work out a cramp. After several seconds, he rolled over and did a couple push-ups before climbing to his feet and resuming play.
"I did some push-ups to show I was OK," Srichaphan said.
And somehow, both mustered strength when it seemed as if they'd have none. After Sanguinetti had taken the point in a 30-shot rally to get the score back to deuce at 5-5 in the fifth set, he stood at the baseline grinning at Srichaphan. The Thai smiled back, then
bounced up and down as if to say, "Bring it on."
Down 6-5 in the fifth, Paradorn served two aces to force the final tiebreak, including one at 118 mph. That prompted a frenzied cheer from his personal cheering section, a group of red-clad Thai fans who travel to most of his matches in the United States.
The breaker featured a 32-shot rally, along with one more dazzling exchange. With Sanguinetti all the way back on the baseline, Srichaphan dropped a shot just over the net. The Italian raced forward and managed to get to the ball, which he lobbed behind Srichaphan. The Thai chased that down, but he was still near the baseline when Sanguinetti executed a perfect drop shot.
Five points later, the match was finally over.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.