Dominant Federer captures Open

Top seed's three-set blowout of No. 4 Hewitt gives him third major this year, fourth overall

September 13, 2004|By Charles Bricker | Charles Bricker,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

NEW YORK - The daylight was fading, the lights high above the four-tiered Arthur Ashe Stadium court had taken a firmer hold on the court below, and Roger Federer, as if there was a spotlight on him now, was midway through the final set of this U.S. Open destruction, the full measure of his immense repertoire on display.

The tournament's top seed was zinging forehands, clubbing topspin backhands heavy enough to shake fourth-seeded Lleyton Hewitt's grip on his racket, cleverly placing serves and delivering deft little touches around the net balls that seemed to be caressed, not stroked.

It was all there for Federer yesterday in a 6-0, 7-6 (3), 6-0 victory that was not only a scintillating combination of power and finesse but also one of the most one-sided of U.S. Open men's championship matches.

There was more historic significance than drama on this perfect afternoon for tennis.

Federer became only the fourth player in the Open era, and the first since Mats Wilander in 1988, to win three of the four Grand Slams in a calendar year. He also became the first man in the Open era to win his first four Grand Slam finals.

There hadn't been two shutout sets in the event's championship match since 1884.

Yet more important than all the numbers and statistics is the context in which he finds himself after conquering the Open, a tournament in which he had never been past the fourth round.

With this triumph, the comparisons to Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, perhaps even Zeus, will become more pronounced. At 23, Federer has four majors. At 23, Sampras had five, and was on his way to a record 14.

"If you can handle New York, you can handle anything," Federer said, sounding vaguely like Frank Sinatra. The meaning of his words wasn't lost on those who had seen him waylaid here the past three years by the wind, the humidity, the noise from the planes at nearby LaGuardia Airport, and the raucous New York crowds.

But this time was different. He arrived here earlier than usual, a week before the start of the tournament, and absorbed the distractions as he prepared.

"I'm very happy the way I played all tournament long," Federer said. "It's been a very consistent performance for me. Not in my wildest dreams, though, did I think I would win the U.S. Open. It's still tough to believe. At the end of the year especially, I'm sure I'll ask myself how in the world I did all this."

The past nine months have left him, in his words, "exhausted." The expectations placed upon him by others and by himself rose to a crescendo here, and he's now ready to take at least two weeks off, and maybe more, before embarking on the indoor season that leads to the $3.7 million Masters Cup finale in Houston in November.

They don't teach Federer's brand of tennis at the youth academies, where the emphasis is on ball crushing and sheer power. Federer is a practitioner of a style in vogue before the advent of the metal racket.

"I think it's very artistic. I mean, I like my game the way I play it," Federer said. "This is how the seniors of today used to play and this is how I used to watch tennis and learn the game. Now that I can play it on a modern basis, it's very special for me."

He is a magnificent combination of throwback and contemporary, and to watch him play, to see how he comports himself on court and how he presents himself is to see an amalgamation of Ken Rosewall's backhand, Arthur Ashe's service and Rod Laver's cool, almost languid court presence.

"Going into this final, I had a kind of strange feeling because of all this talk about winning three Slams, so I started wondering," Federer said.

He's wondering no more. Nor is anyone else. It's not just that he's on his way to becoming perhaps the greatest player ever, but that he's doing it with the sort of artistry the game has lacked for a long time.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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