KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) – Roger Federer’s first shot hit a light pole, and his third sailed over the upper deck out of the stadium.

No, Federer’s slump didn’t reach a new low Friday. He merely misfired a couple of times trying to whack souvenir balls into the stands after winning his opening match at the Sony Ericsson Open.

The two-time Key Biscayne champion beat American Kevin Kim 6-3, 6-2.

“Great start to the tournament,” Federer said.

He hopes to end a drought that has left him without a title in his past 12 Masters tournaments, the ATP Tour’s most prestigious events aside from the Grand Slams.

His 41/2-year reign atop the rankings ended last August when he was overtaken by nemesis Rafael Nadal, but Federer professes optimism that he has the ability to reclaim the top spot.

“The true understanders of the game know it doesn’t go that quickly,” he said.

His one-hour workout with Kim on stadium court was more like a practice session, especially in the second set. Federer played serve-and-volley and chip-and-charge much more than he would in a tight match.

“I was trying out a few things toward the end, that’s true,” he said. “I could take my foot off a little bit and just try out a few things.”

The No. 2-seeded Federer moved into the third round, where he’ll meet Nicolas Kiefer. Seeded players had first-round byes.

Also advancing were No. 3 Novak Djokovic, the 2007 champion, and No. 13 James Blake.

Unseeded American Taylor Dent needed five match points to eliminate No. 19 Nicolas Almagro 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7).

The Safin family swept its second-round matches. No. 22 Marat Safin defeated Oscar Hernandez 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, and his sister, No. 2 Dinara Safina, beat Mathilde Johansson 6-1, 6-3.

Also reaching the third round in women’s play were two-time Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo, Olympic gold medalist Elena Dementieva and former U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Federer’s match was his first since the announcement this week of the annual ATP World Tour awards. He won the Stefan Edberg sportsmanship honor for a record fifth consecutive year and was chosen the favorite player for the sixth year in a row in a poll of fans.

He’s popular with South Florida’s many Latin and South American fans even though Spanish and Portuguese are not among the six languages he speaks.

“This morning I was signing autographs after my practice, and one guy was saying, ‘You know, Brazil loves you,”‘ Federer said with a smile. “Next guy, ‘Venezuela, too.’ And ‘Ecuador’ is the third guy, and then another guy, ‘Dominican Republic as well.’ So it’s nice. They love tennis, which is good.”

In his 10th year on the tour, Federer conceded he’s less patient with the many demands on his time.

“I feel it just hanging around the courts,” he said. “I just don’t do it as much anymore. You just want to get away from the tennis scene, because maybe after playing 1,000 matches, you get sick and tired of seeing another 100,000 matches you’ve seen already. But still I try to give back to the fans by signing autographs and taking pictures while I’m at the site. Especially after practice, I like to take my time.”

The toll of the tennis grind may help explain the decline in the 27-year-old Federer’s fortunes. He has lost five consecutive matches against Nadal and four in a row against Andy Murray, and for the first time in five years, Federer’s not seeded No. 1 at Key Biscayne.

Marat Safin can relate – he briefly reached the No. 1 ranking in 2000.

“You can’t expect to be on top for 10 years,” Safin said. “New guys are coming. They’re hungry, they’re faster, they’re playing better. It’s something new for them.

“For Roger, he has already been on the tour for nine or 10 years and has seen everything. Guys see the opportunity of beating him, and that’s what happens. He’s getting old, and the young guys want to beat him. Eventually they will crack him down. The older he gets, the more people are going to beat him. That’s the way it is.”

Federer could meet Djokovic in the semifinals and Nadal in the final. He has won 31 consecutive matches against players ranked outside the top 10, suggesting he’s a near-lock to hang around for several more rounds.

That will give him time to work on his postmatch lobs into the stands.

AP-ES-03-27-09 1925EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.