Doha - Roger Federer began the season which he hopes will see him add to his record 16 Grand Slam titles with a fighting win and a finish which took the roof off in the first round of the Qatar Open.
The tennis legend was forced to save three successive set points to get past Thomas Schoorel, an enterprising 21-year-old qualifier from The Netherlands, but then concluded the match amidst laughter and tumultuous applause for a shot which should get endless on-line video replays.
For no accountable reason Federer struck a ground stroke between his legs when he was in no apparent difficulty and watched it go for a sensational winner in the penultimate game of his 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 win.
It was at least a minute before the next rally could start, with Federer unable to contain his grin as he stood to receive and Schoorel still smiling generously as he eventually began his service action.
Somehow Schoorel rescued that service game and was still smiling broadly as Federer wrapped up the match in the next game, with the crowd again going wild.
"My opponent was good and has quality," Federer said of a player was competing in only the second ATP World Tour event of his career. "He hit hard and had good chances in the first set."
They happened when Federer slipped to love-40 on his serve at 4-5, only to produce three wonderfully timed first serves in a row to repair the damage -- though he face other mini-crises too.
He had been 30-40 down in the eighth game, when he also produced a winning first serve, and he had to save two more break points in the third game of the second set.
The first was saved with an approach and a delicately angled stop volley winner, and the second with an ace. "I took time to get into the match," Federer admitted.
That may have been partly to the cool, slowish, early evening conditions, but it was also to the awkward angles the left-handed Schoorel projected into Federer's backhand side, and the uninhibited way he struck fierce flat groundstrokes.
Federer acknowledged that he played better after the morale-booster of winning a tight first set, and said that he hoped it would help him go on to win the Qatar Open title back.
He added:"But I hope to win many tournaments around the world this year," which sounded like a statement of intent for the Australian Open, where he will begin the defence of the title in less then two weeks time.
Federer now has to play his fellow Swiss player Marco Chiudinelli, a qualifier who came from the brink of defeat to beat Reda El Amrani, a wild card player from Morocco, by 3-6, 7-6(7-3), 6-3.