Friday, January 27, 2006

Federer Advances Over Kiefer, Faces Baghdatis In Final

Nicolas Kiefer tried his best to challenge Roger Federer. But when push came to shove, the world number one had all the answers in a two hour 40-minute four set semifinal triumph over Kiefer 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena Friday night.

"We have had many close and tough matches over the last few years," noted Federer after the match.

Federer will meet Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in the Australian Open final Sunday night. It is his third consecutive slam final. He won the last two majors of 2005 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The 24-year-old Swiss became the first male player to appear in three straight finals since Andre Agassi did it in '99 (French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open).

In the last three years, Federer is a perfect six-for-six in grand slam finals, winning the Australian Open two years ago, Wimbledon '03-05 and U.S. Open the last two years. He'll put that unblemished record on the line against Baghdatis Sunday.

In the first set, after Federer held for 2-1, he broke Kiefer in the fourth game to jump in front 3-1. With Federer up 5-2, he applied heavy pressure on Kiefer's serve to put away the set in the eighth game but was fought off by the valiant German. After Federer hit a running backhand winner crosscourt to setup two points, the debut slam semifinalist saved both to stay in the set 3-5.

But Federer closed out the 44-minute set with three winners including a net cord which bounced on the line to claim it.

Federer had 14 winners to only eight unforced errors while Kiefer had 11 winners and 18 unforced errors.

But as Kiefer did in a four set loss to Federer at Wimbledon last year, he rebounded with a much better second set. More accurate from the baseline while Federer's level dropped, the German went toe-to-toe with the world number one. He also hit some timely aces to hold serve, including two in the seventh game to go up 4-3. Kiefer outaced Federer 14-7 for the match. Despite Federer making more errors, each player held serve without facing a break point the first eight games.

In the ninth game, Federer went for the kill but Kiefer denied him with some clutch shotmaking, including a lunging volley winner at 30-All. After a couple of Kiefer errors gave Federer his only break chance, the 21st seeded German saved it with another nifty volley putaway. Federer took him off the hook with two loose forehands to give Kiefer a 5-4 lead.

After both players held to make the score 6-5, Kiefer took advantage of a shaky game from Federer to claim the set. With Federer serving to force it to a tiebreaker, two errors put Kiefer two points from the set. An aggressive Kiefer reached two set points when a big forehand forced a Federer miss. Unable to convert the first one, Kiefer leveled the match when a Federer slice backhand sailed wide.

In the 56-minute set, Kiefer had 11 winners to Federer's eight while Federer made the same amount of unforced errors (18) Kiefer had the opening set. Astonishingly, the 18 were more than half of the 33 the top seed made for the entire match. Kiefer had five less errors (13) in the set.

That's when the best player in the world raised his level a couple of notches to put any thoughts of an upset to a screeching halt. Playing a splending set of tennis, Federer ran off six consecutive games to bagel Kiefer.

Just how dominate was Federer. He took 25 of the 33 total points in the brief 25-minute set, cracking eight winners to just two unforced errors. Meanwhile, Kiefer had only three winners and eight unforced errors. A sharp contrast from the previous set.

Much sharper right away, two winners gave him three break points in the first game. After Kiefer fought off the first two, Federer had the break when Kiefer floated a backhand long. After holding easily, Federer quickly pounced to break again for 3-0. With the help of a running forehand down the line and a Kiefer double fault, he had a two break lead. Before anyone could blink an eye, another Kiefer double gave Federer his third straight break for a 5-0 cushion.

Though a Kiefer forehand winner gave him his only break point of the set, Federer got out of trouble with a backhand winner. When Kiefer netted a forehand, Federer had a two sets to one lead.

After Kiefer held in the opening game of the fourth set to break a run of six consecutive games, Federer ended any doubt when he broke Kiefer in the third and fifth games. After Kiefer denied one break point during the third game with a stab volley winner, two straight errors gave Federer the break for 2-1. After he had no trouble holding for 3-1, he broke Kiefer for the fifth time in six games with a textbook forehand winner crosscourt to take a commanding two break lead.

A second serve ace gave Federer his fourth game in a row and 11th in 12 for a 5-1 lead. Though the resilient Kiefer saved two match points to hold for 2-5, it only denied the inevitable. A service winner gave Federer the victory.

The final two sets, Federer dominated by taking 12 of 14 games. He took 55 of the final 83 total points and hit 17 winners to only seven unforced errors. He finished the match with 39 total winners.

It was by far the best he's played this tournament. He'll need a similar performance against Baghdatis to win his second Australian Open in three years and make it seven-for-seven in slam finals.

Last year, Federer eliminated Baghdatis 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 in the Round of 16. He has never lost to his opponent in three meetings. Baghdatis will be making his debut grand slam final.

"I think we are all surprised he got so far," Federer said. "He proved us all wrong. He beat quality players and he deserves to be in the final."

"I'm looking forward to it. What a great effort by Marcos."

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