Federer lifts game to new level with Masters win

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The Independent Online

It is tempting to suggest that the best thing about the Masters Cup here in Texas was that it just about finished on time and has been shanghaied. But wherever Roger Federer is involved, playing his beautiful game, it is worth waiting through every drop of rain to marvel at him.

It is tempting to suggest that the best thing about the Masters Cup here in Texas was that it just about finished on time and has been shanghaied. But wherever Roger Federer is involved, playing his beautiful game, it is worth waiting through every drop of rain to marvel at him.

Even Lleyton Hewitt would agree with that, and the gutsy Australian has seen more than enough of the Swiss world No 1 this year. They have met six times, starting at the Australian Open in January, passing through Wimbledon in July and shaking hands at the US Open in September. Federer has won every time - claiming his two latest victories against the Adelaide counter-puncher in straight sets here last week.

First, Federer beat him in their round-robin group match, 6-3, 6-2. He dominated him again in the final on Sunday night, 6-3, 6-2. In normal circumstances, Hewitt would have had an opportunity to stage a comeback, but both players agreed to play over the best of three sets, instead of best of five, to save the tournament. Not that Hewitt looked capable of taking Federer the distance here any more than he had in the final at the US Open, when Federer thrashed him, 6-0, 7-6, 6-0, annexing America's Grand Slam title to those he won in Melbourne and at Wimbledon.

It was not that Hewitt was off his game last week - he dismantled Andy Roddick, the world No 2, in Saturday's semi-finals, 6-3, 6-2. But, as Hewitt said: "Roger's taken his game to another level. [Andre] Agassi on his day and [Pete] Sampras on his day are pretty awesome players. I think Roger is definitely up there." At least Hewitt avoided zeros in the scoreline this time. "I think Roger probably played better in the US Open, especially at the start of the match," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen a guy play that well in my life."

Federer's brilliance and consistency in defending the Masters Cup added $1.52m (£810,000) to his bank balance, and he set a new record for the open era (since 1968) by winning his 13th consecutive final, stretching back to Vienna in October 2003. He is 23-0 against top 10 opponents going back to last year's Masters Cup, and the first player to win the year-end ATP Tour finale back-to-back without losing a match since Ivan Lendl in 1986-87.

There have been a few disappointments: "The Olympic Games [he lost to the Czech, Tomas Berdych, in the second round], and also to lose to France at home in my first Davis Cup tie as the world No 1." Federer, however, can count his other defeats this year on one hand: Tim Henman, in Rotterdam; Rafael Nadal, in Key Biscayne; Albert Costa, in Rome; Gustavo Kuerten, at the French Open; Dominik Hrbaty, in Cincinnati.

He and Hewitt hope to be in contention again in China at the end of next season. Hewitt, having beaten Federer seven times in their first nine matches, now trails, 7-8. One of his last wins was in the semi-finals at the Masters Cup en route to his triumph in Shanghai in 2002.

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