Federer raises game to take sting out of Lopez

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Roger Federer won his second singles title of the year and the 13th of his career with a succesful defence at the Dubai Open last night. But the world No 1 had to raise his game to take the impetus away from Feliciano Lopez, of Spain, who was competing in his first ATP Tour final.

After breaking the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion in the opening game, the 22-year-old Lopez defied Federer for the remainder of the set, saving six break points, five of them when leading 4-3 and the other when serving for the set at 5-4.

For 39 minutes, Lopez, ranked No 32, served with power and confidence and hit impressive ground strokes and volleys, emphasising why he is the highest-ranked left-hander on the Tour. He was the only player to break Federer all week - not even Marat Safin managed that in the first round.

But once Federer converted his eighth break point to lead 3-1 in the second set, Lopez began to lose his sting, and was beaten, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, after an hour and 35 minutes.

"Once again today I realised why Roger is the best player in the world," Lopez said. "Your first final is always very special," Federer told Lopez. "I'm sorry to beat you today, but I think you are going to win many more finals."

It may be remembered that Lopez was Federer's opponent in the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer, a match in which Federer had a back spasm that threatened to end his campaign. He recovered to win in straight sets en route to becoming the most stylish champion since Pete Sampras.

Federer defeated Lopez a second time in the quarter-finals at the Madrid Masters last October, but he had to come back after losing the opening set and was taken to a tie-break in the second set.

In the semi-finals on Saturday, Lopez was not at his best in beating Mikhail Youzhny, of Russia, in three sets. Federer was fortunate to take the first set off the left-handed Jarkko Nieminen, of Finland, having saved three set points, but then played superbly to win the second set.

Federer, the first man to win the title in consecutive years, has certainly paid his dues at the Dubai Open. When he won here last year, defeating the Czech Jiri Novak in the final, he received his prize money plus two lots of appearance money.

This followed a controversy here in 2002, when Federer was accused of not giving his best effort in losing a second-round match to Rainer Schüttler, of Germany, 6-3, 6-1. Jeff Chapman, the tournament director at the time, withheld Federer's prize money and appearance bonus and sent a tape of the match to the ATP, the governing body of the men's tour.

The ATP told the tournament to release Federer's prize money, which they did. But his appearance money was withheld and Federer was told he would receive it if he returned the following year and gave his best.

Federer said he had not set out deliberately to lose the Schüttler match, but had realised early in the second set that he could not win. He made a succesful and popular return last year after winning the title in Marseilles, and went on to annex further honours in Munich and Halle before his triumph at Wimbledon.

Federer was presented with his second silver dhow trophy. "I now have two cows and two boats," he said. "But the cows won't fit into the boats."

Last night's capacity crowd was also thrilled by the doubles final, in which Mahesh Bhupathi and Fabrice Santoro defeated Jonas Bjorkman and Leander Paes, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, after two hours and 14 minutes.

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