Federer masters clay game as injury hampers Coria

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer confirmed his status as No 1 in the world by beating the top court–clay player of the last year to win the Hamburg Masters yesterday for the second time since 2002 and end Guillermo Coria's 31–match winning streak.

Roger Federer confirmed his status as No 1 in the world by beating the top court–clay player of the last year to win the Hamburg Masters yesterday for the second time since 2002 and end Guillermo Coria's 31–match winning streak.

Federer beat the second–seeded defending champion 4–6, 6–4, 6–2, 6–3 and handed Coria his first defeat on clay in nearly a year. "It was a very important win for me," Federer said of his first match against Coria. Coria had been unbeaten on clay since the semi-finals of last year's French Open.

The US$2.9 million Hamburg event is the fifth of nine Masters Series tournaments, one tier below the Grand Slams. It is also a major tuneup for the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year that starts in one week.

Although clay is not considered his best surface, Federer dispelled any doubts about is potential to play on all surfaces and must be seen as a favorite for Roland Garros. He won his first major at Wimbledon last year and followed up by capturing the Australian Open at the start of the year. He also won in Dubai and the Masters Series in Indian Wells.

"I have the experience of big finals now and I also know that I've played well in them and won them," he said. "I am more relaxed now before the French. I went there the past two years with high expectations, but now I know how to approach possible five–set matches and that I can survive them.

"It's fantastic, I am very proud win here for the second time. I have been playing incredible tennis for the last 12 months, I am winning every third tournament I play, that's crazy."

Federer had an impressive run to the final but looked uncomfortable at the start and dropped his serve in the first game. Coria used this edge to win the set, hitting a deep forehand that Federer could only put back into the net. "I had to adjust a bit to his game, I had to see how he would play," Federer said.

The two traded breaks of serve early in the second and the set was even until the 10th game. Federer stepped up pressure on Coria's serve and converted the first of his three set points with a volley.

He then won the first three games of the third, as his play became more consistent and his effective serve gained in accuracy.

Down 5–2, Coria committed a double–fault to make it 30–30. Federer immediately stepped up the pressure with his best weapon, a powerful forehand, and gained a set point. He won it after forcing Coria into a backhand error.

"My serve was beginning to work and I could take more risks in my return games," Federer said. He held serve at the start of the fourth and Coria then received treatment for a blister on a finger on his playing, right hand.

When he returned, Coria handed Federer a break point by putting a forehand into the net. He then played a week drop shot that bounced high in midcourt, giving Federer all the time to put away a forehand winner and go up 2–0.

This was all Federer needed and ended the set with two consecutive service winners. He fired 38 winners in the match, while Coria had 20.

"I started at a very high level, but he got a lot more confident after winning the second set," Coria said. "He was physically better, I had some long matches behind me."

Federer improved to 32–3 in 2004, his career–best start in a year.

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