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(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Andy Ram's defense of his Australian Open doubles title very nearly faltered in the first round on Wednesday.
Ram and Max Mirnyi, who are playing together in the absence of the injured Yoni Erlich, saved three match points in the third set tiebreak and defeated Australians Greg Jones and Peter Luczak 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (8).
Next up for the Israeli/Belarusian duo, who are seeded number 9 in the tournament, is Spain's Davis Cup winning doubles team of Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco.
On Thursday, Dudi Sela (106 in the world) will look to advance to the third round of the Australian Open for the first time in his career when he faces Victor Hanescu (44).
Sela, who has lost in the second round in Melbourne for the last two years, defeated Hanescu in the Moscow tournament last year, but lost to the Romanian in the first round of the French Open.
Also Thursday, Shahar Pe'er and Caroline Wozniacki begin their participation in the women's doubles tournament.
The Israeli/Danish team face Russians Alla Kudryavtseva and Ekaterina Makarova in the first round.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer and Marat Safin rolled to easy victories Wednesday 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 here 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.
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 lost last year's final here to Maria Sharapova, who is out with a shoulder injury.
She 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.
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.
Former Wimbledon runner-up David Nalbandian, who won in Sydney last week and was seeded 10th, was knocked out by unheralded Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan 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.
Unseeded Jelena Dokic, a former Wimbledon semifinalist making her first appearance in the main draw of a Grand Slam after a three-year absence to deal with personal problems, ousted 17th-seeded Anna Chakvetadze 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3.
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.
Among the men's seeded players advancing were No. 11 David Ferrer of Spain, No. 15 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 19 Marin Cilic of Croatia, No. 20 Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic, and No. 21 Tommy Robredo of Spain and American Mardy Fish, seeded 23rd.
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