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Federer, Safin to duel, Lu tames Nalbandian

ROGER Federer and Marat Safin rolled to easy victories yesterday against first-time opponents to reach the Australian Open's third round, where the familiarity factor will be much higher: They'll be playing each other.

"I'm happy to be playing Marat; we have fought some battles," Federer said after ousting error-prone Evgeny Korolev of Russia 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in just 86 minutes. "We had the epic in 2005."

That was a semifinal thriller that Safin won in a 9-7 fifth set en route to the championship. Federer, seeking to tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 grand slam titles, has won their last three meetings, including the last two at Wimbledon.

Although Federer's No. 2 ranking is 24 places higher, Safin's talent, unpredictability and famed volatility set the stage for an early marquee matchup.

Safin, a former world No. 1, beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. He will turn 29 next week and has said he is unlikely to play after this year, so he's trying to enjoy what could be his farewell tour. "I have nothing to lose," Safin said. "I'm going to go for it. Whatever comes, comes. He knows how to play against me; I know how to play against him."

The winner would be on track for a possible semifinal meeting against defending champion Novak Djokovic, who traded shots with No. 68 Jeremy Chardy for nearly a set before the Frenchman faltered.

Third-ranked Djokovic cruised the rest of the way for a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 win. "I'm playing better and better which is very encouraging," Djokovic said. "I really stepped it up."

His fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic advanced on the women's side, though they finished with different attitudes.

Ivanovic was happy she played better in her 6-3, 6-2 victory over Italy's Alberta Brianti than she did in the first round. Top-ranked Jankovic, seeking her first grand slam title and recovering from illness, felt she regressed while ousting Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-4, 7-5.

Former Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian, who won in Sydney last week and was seeded 10th, was knocked out by unheralded Lu Yen-hsun of Chinese Taipei 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in just under four hours. The 25-year-old Lu had never advanced past the second round in 12 previous slams.

Seventh-seeded Andy Roddick had his hands full against Xavier Malisse of Belgium, a former top 20 player who had to go through qualifying because his ranking has fallen to No. 195 due to a wrist injury.

Roddick, a semifinalist here three times and the 2003 US Open champion, rallied for a hard-fought 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (1), 6-2 victory. Malisse seemed to lose steam after forcing the third-set tiebreaker, where he won only one point.

Roddick next faces 36-year-old Fabrice Santoro of France, who had an even tougher time, going five sets and more than four hours to beat Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber, the No. 32 seed.

No. 3 Dinara Safina overcame 44 unforced errors in a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-0 win over fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova and will next play No. 25 Kaia Kanepi of Estonia.

No. 10 Nadia Petrova beat India's Sania Mirza. Also advancing were No. 7 Vera Zvonareva of Russia, No. 15 Alize Cornet of France and No. 19 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia.


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