By Julian Linden
BRISBANE (Reuters) - Roger Federer avoided an embarrassing start to the new season when he dug himself out of trouble to beat little-known journeyman John Millman 4-6 6-4 6-3 at the Brisbane International on Thursday.
What was expected to be a romp in the park for the Swiss maestro quickly turned into a old-fashioned scrap as he struggled to overcome a player ranked 153rd in the world who had only won three ATP matches in his career.
Federer, who needs just three more wins to chalk up 1,000 career victories, looked a shadow of the player who has captured 17 grand slam titles when he committed 38 unforced errors to the disbelief of the crowd at the Pat Rafter Arena.
The world number two conceded the opening set when he sprayed a forehand volley over the baseline then fell 3-1 behind in the second when he dropped serve for the second time in the match.
But once Federer elevated his game and began to eliminate some of his mistakes, Millman, a 25-year-old local from Brisbane who was given a wildcard to play in the Australian Open warm-up event, was unable to stay with him.
Federer twice broke Millman's serve to claim the second set then broke him twice more in the decider to book his place in Friday's quarter-finals against James Duckworth, another wildcard recipient.
"I was under a lot of pressure and I thought I got quite lucky in the second set," Federer said in a courtside interview.
"He was playing some great tennis until the last couple of games, so credit to him."
At 33 and without a grand slam win since 2012, Federer's best days already seem behind him and Thursday's flawed performance will have done little to ease his support's anxiety with the first grand slam of the year approaching.
But Federer said he was unfazed by his rusty start and was relieved to get his first win of the season as he prepares for the Australian Open, starting in Melbourne in 11 days.
"It's the first match of the season, so you never know what to expect," he said. "I was sweating like crazy. I was just happy to win."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by Justin Palmer)