Doha, 5 January 2011 | AFP

Opening a season in which he hopes to add to his record 16 grand slam titles, Roger Federer was made to fight all the way before winning his first round match at the Qatar Open.

The world No.2 was forced to save three successive set points to get past Thomas Schoorel, a 21-year-old qualifier from The Netherlands, before concluding the match amidst laughter and applause for a shot which should get endless online video replays.

For no accountable reason, Federer struck a ground stroke between his legs 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 Schoorel, competing in only his second ATP tour event.

“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.

He was then down 30-40 in the eighth game only to produce a winning first serve, and he had to save two more break points in the third game of the second set.

“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.

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.

“But I hope to win many tournaments around the world this year,” Federer said in a statement of intent ahead of the Australian Open.

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 wildcard player from Morocco 3-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-3.