Federer overcomes Nalbandian to break another duck

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The Independent Online

The Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer, of Switzerland beat David Nalbandian of Argentina for the first time in their professional careers, emphatically ending a five–match head–to–head losing streak with a 6–3, 6–0 victory yesterday at the Tennis Masters Cup.

"I've always been hoping to beat him," Federer said. "It's good to get it off my back. It's easier to live."

He improved to 2–0 in the round–robin portion of the season–closing championship. Nalbandian is 1–1.

The third–ranked Federer dominated No 8 Nalbandian throughout, winning the first five games and the last seven. He continually tested the two–handed backhand of Nalbandian, who has been troubled by tendinitis in his left wrist lately and said he might need surgery in the off-season.

Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon runner–up, was undone by six double–faults, 26 unforced errors and a slew of poor service returns. Federer made just 11 errors.

"He didn't play as well as in the past," Federer said. "Normally, he's one of the best returners in the world, and today he couldn't find a rhythm."

Before yesterday, Nalbandian had compiled his 5–0 mark against Federer by bettering him in every which way: on clay, on indoor carpet, on hard courts, at second–tier tournaments and at Grand Slams (including this year's US Open). Federer did possess one previous win over Nalbandian – but it came when they were juniors in the 1990s.

Federer made one key strategic change, opting to stay at the baseline more and serve–and–volley less than in past matches against the Argentine. "I didn't feel really good," Nalbandian said. "But, also, Roger played a very good match – almost perfect."

It's not the only poor record Federer has improved this week. He was 0–3 against Andre Agassi until beating him in three sets Monday.

Last night, Agassi was to face No 2 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who is trying to overtake Andy Roddick for the year–ending No 1 ranking.

On Tuesday, Roddick beat Carlos Moya of Spain 6–2, 3–6, 6–3 in their opening match in Houston to eliminate Federer from contention for the top spot. But Federer still is in the running to lead the ATP Tour in match wins (he has 75) and titles (he and Roddick are tied with six).

As well as he played against Nalbandian, Federer also got plenty of help.

Nalbandian ceded the fourth game of the match with a double–fault, then wasted two break points in the next game with errant backhand returns. And he started the second set in the worst way, double–faulting to set up break point, then missing a forehand long. Nalbandian reacted by spiking his racket to the purple court.