Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A U.S. Open To Remember Part IV

Federer Repeats In High Quality Final

From the beginning, the 24-year-old Federer was the overwhelming favorite. He had won five slams in the last three years- Wimbledon-'03-05 Australian-'04 U.S. Open-'04. No apparent flaws in his all court game that included a big forehand, devastating backhand, solid net game and pinpoint serve. How could a player 11 years older compete? Especially when Agassi had lost their last seven meetings after winning the first three. But Agassi was Federer's toughest opponent last year in a quarterfinal, forcing him to five sets in rainy windy conditions over two days before Federer prevailed enroute to his first Open.

Could Agassi be writing his own final script a la Sampras four years earlier and go out on top to win his ninth slam? Or was he up against too brilliant an opponent?

With supporters chanting, "Let's Go Andre" before a point had been played, the two didn't disappoint. In a high quality first set in which both served well, trading shot for shot, Federer needed 19 winners and eight set points to take it 6-3, pulling within two sets of repeating.

But Agassi had come too far. In the second set, he took it to Federer, pushing arguably the best player he's ever played around, drawing many backhand errors. When he broke Federer with a vintage crosscourt forehand return winner for a 2-0 lead, the Ashe Stadium crowd went wild.
Continuing to be aggressive from the baseline, Agassi ripped deep forehands and sizzling backhand winners in a terrific set. He also mixed up his serve well, tossing in some slower paced 90 MPH changeups, which kept Federer off balance. When Agassi broke for the second time in the eighth game on another loose Federer backhand, the crowd erupted. He took the second set 6-2 to level the match.

The third set continued to see Agassi dictate from the baseline and also come into the net to finish points when the opportunity presented itself. When Federer dumped another backhand into the net, Agassi had broken for 4-2. The stadium cheered loudly thinking that an upset could be brewing.

But like the best players often do, Federer immediately broke back. With Agassi two points from 5-2, Federer's luck changed on one backhand return that fell in for a winner. Suddenly, he found the range and started pounding big forehands in rallies. After a flawless service game squared it at five all, Federer applied tremendous pressure on Agassi's serve. But Agassi as he had all day fought bravely, saving four break points including one on an inside out forehand and another on his fifth ace out wide. Federer easily held to force the pivotal tiebreaker which would change the match.

After a brilliantly constructed first point by Agassi ending with his bread and butter shot of the tournament; a backhand slice dropshot winner, it was all Federer. Like he had against Hewitt a day earlier, Federer took over the tiebreak winning the final seven points with big serves and pinpoint groundstrokes. With five set points, he finished it off with a nifty backhand return down the line for one of his 69 winners, more than double of Agassi (34).

For Agassi, the end came quickly in the fourth. He left everything out on the court but Federer played better. With Agassi producing more errors (only 28 for match) and Federer hitting more lines, the Swiss sensation produced two breaks and jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Just to prevent getting bageled a la Hewitt last year, Agassi fought off two championship points in his own service game, including his sixth ace on one. But Federer served it out at love. When Agassi sent a backhand long, a very relieved Federer jumped up and swung his racket in jubilation. It was his second consecutive Open.

As the two shook hands and said a few words of encouragement, the crowd cheered. Though Agassi fell short, they knew he put up a valiant fight against a remarkable champion, making Federer earn it. With the win, he became the first man in the Open Era to repeat at tennis' two most prestigous events-Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The last male to accomplish this feat was Don Budge back in '37-38. He also is the first player to go six-for-six in his first six slam finals. An amazing accomplishment. Along with that, Federer increased his consecutive winning streak in finals to 23.

Federer's Records Serve Notice

Federer's record for the year is now a ridiculous 71-3 with his last defeat coming against French Open champion Rafael Nadal in a four set semifinal at Roland Garros. In fact, Federer even managed to break tennis legend Pete Sampras' hard court record of 34 won in a row (twice in career). By defeating Agassi, he has won 35 straight on hard courts with his last loss coming to Marat Safin in a five set epic Australian Open semifinal back in January.

Federer has been number one 84 consecutive weeks and there seems to be no end in sight to it. He's already guaranteed himself the top spot for the rest of the year. Federer has won six of the last 10 majors and at age 24, doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. He still needs another eight slams to match Sampras' all-time record. But even Sampras' greatest rival Agassi called Federer the best he's ever played against Sunday night.

It's hard to argue.

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