Agassi believes Federer is the best of all time

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"Daddy, who did you play with?" Jaden wanted to know. "Somebody with long hair," Daddy told him.

Elaborating for the media, who had watched in amazement as the 35-year-old from Las Vegas belied his age in a final to savour, Agassi declared Roger Federer to be simply the best he had ever played against in a career spanning 20 US Opens.

The 24-year-old Swiss world No 1's hair is not as long as when he won the US Open for the first time a year ago, but his game is even more luminous and has more volume. This was evident as he wore down the spirited Agassi, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1, on Sunday night.

"You step on the court feeling like you have to play a perfect match," Agassi said. He then payed Federer the ultimate compliment of rating him above Pete Sampras, who retired here in 2002 after winning a record 14th Grand Slam singles title and was world No 1 for a record six years in a row.

"Pete was great, no question," said Agassi, who lost 14 of 34 matches against the Californian. "But there was a place to get to with Pete, you knew what you had to do. If you do it, it could be on your terms. There's no such place like that with Roger."

In Federer's case, Agassi said, opponents reach a point of no return. "With other guys you play - and I've played a lot of them over so many years - there's a safety zone, there's a place to get to, there's something to focus on, there's a way. Anything you try to do [Roger] potentially has an answer for, and it's just a function of when he starts pulling the triggers necessary to get you to change to that decision. He plays the game in a very special way. I haven't seen it before.

"He's the only guy I've ever played against where you hold serve to go 1-0 and you're thinking, 'All right, good'. And I'm not just making fun of it, I'm literally telling you the way it is. He can hurt you at any point. You're serving 30-love. He wins the point. It's 30-15. The pressure you feel at 30-15 is different than [playing] anybody else. So there's a sense of urgency on every point, on every shot.

"It's an incredible challenge. I certainly didn't have enough today. Playing three five-setters doesn't help. But it's still a standard out there that you've got to exceed yourself all the time."

Agassi excelled himself for three sets. Though broken for 4-2 in the opening set, he went on to save seven set points, and then picked himself up in the second set, winning the first three games en route to levelling the match. He raised home hopes by breaking for 4-2 in the third set, only to lose the tie-break, 7-1. And he continued to try everything he knew as Federer sped through the fourth set.

In winning sixth Grand Slam titles - the same number as Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, and two less than Agassi - Federer also became the first man to successfully defend the Wimbledon and US Open titles since the American Donald Budge in 1938. That was the year Budge accomplished the sport's first Grand Slam.

For Federer, who has now won a record 23 finals in a row, beating Agassi here was a personal milestone. "This is the most special final for me," he said, "to play Andre in the final of the US Open. He's one of the only living legends we have who is still playing, next to Martina Navratilova on the women's side.

"To play him in this situation, towards the end of his career, me being on the top of my game, made it really special."

For three sets, Agassi's agility, resilience and alertness, lured Federer into making errors, particularly on the backhand, but the maestro prevailed.

"When I was down 4-2 in third set," said Federer, "I felt my serve began to click again. It was the first time that had happened in the whole tournament." Smiling, he added: "I was quite pleased it happened then."

Inevitably, Agassi was asked about retirement. "As of now," he replied, "my intention is to keep working and to keep doing what it is I do. You know, the only thing better than the last 20 years will be the last 21 years."

When the dust from his latest adventure settles, Agassi will sit down with his coach, Darren Cahill, and his fitness trainer, Gil Reyes, and discuss his schedule. For now, the show stays on the road.

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