Federer roars under the eye of the Tiger

The world's No 1 tennis player won his ninth Grand Slam at the US Open after a locker room talk with another sporting star, writes Paul Newman in New York
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The Independent Online

Poor Andy Roddick. If it was not hard enough facing one rival who was edging ever closer to the record for victories in major tournaments, there among his opponent's entourage was another.

Much has been made over the last fortnight of the similarities between Roger Federer and Tiger Woods and the two men met for the first time on Sunday before the final of the US Open here. Woods had promised to come to New York if Federer reached the final and they talked in the locker room before the match.

The world's best golfer, whose 12 majors have put him within six of the record held by Jack Nicklaus, then joined Mirka Vavrinec, Federer's girlfriend, to watch from the sidelines as the world's best tennis player set about winning his ninth Grand Slam tournament.

Two and a half hours later it was mission accomplished as Federer beat Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, to put himself five Grand Slam titles behind Pete Sampras' record of 14. As both men have time on their side - Woods is 30 and Federer 25 - it may well be a question of when rather than if they both rewrite the record books.

At the rate Federer is going, he may well be the first to do so. This was his 30th Grand Slam event and of the five other men who have won nine majors or more only Bjorn Borg reached that figure in quicker time, after 22 tournaments. What is more, Federer did not get off the mark until his 17th attempt, at Wimbledon in 2003. He has appeared in the last six Grand Slam finals and won nine of the last 14, his only defeat coming in Paris this year.

Federer exudes self-confidence but admitted that he had felt daunted by the presence of Woods. "It felt like maybe the first time your parents see you do something special, or when somebody you really look up to comes to see you," he said. "Seeing Tiger sitting there made me want to try to play well, to get my act together, focus and get off to a good start."

He should not have worried. Federer, playing magnificent attacking tennis, won the first five games in a row. Although Roddick responded in impressive fashion in the second and third sets, Federer's level hardly dropped. He served beautifully, hitting 17 aces, and the quality of his groundstrokes and shot selection were outstanding.

To his credit Roddick, revived this summer by the coaching of Jimmy Connors after a downward spiral had taken him out of the world's top 10 for the first time in more than three years, took the game to Federer.

While his volleying remains patchy and his backhand can still be less than convincing, the 24-year-old American hits his serve and forehand as hard as anyone. Had he converted one of the four break points he had early in the third set, there was no telling what he might have achieved. Once Federer broke to take the set, however, the finishing line quickly came into sight. Roddick won only 13 points in the final set.

Like Woods, Federer is a brilliant front runner, rarely letting a lead slip. Indeed the two men found much common ground. "I asked him how it was for him and many things were similar," Federer said. "He knew exactly how I felt out on the court. That's something that I haven't felt before - a guy who knows how it feels to feel invincible at times, what it's like when you have the feeling that there's nothing going wrong any more."

During their meeting Federer put Woods on the phone to his parents, who are keen golfers. Federer said that Woods had invited him to watch him at a golf major and he hoped to do so soon. "I'm going to go to each Masters to watch him, each Grand Slam he plays and get him back," Federer joked. "I'm going to tell him: 'I'm going to come when you're about to win a major, when you're out on the 18th green. I'll be standing there'."

Looking back on his year, Federer said that he had felt under great pressure to perform in the grass-court season after his defeat to Rafael Nadal at the French Open. Victory at Wimbledon had evened things up after the Spaniard had swept all before him on clay, beating the world No 1 in the finals at Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris. Federer felt he then needed to win the US Open to underline his supremacy.

"I thought I played fantastic all the way through," he said of his New York campaign. "The entire tournament was great. In Australia I struggled but this was more like Wimbledon, where I also dominated from the start. It's been a fantastic season. Winning three Slams is unbelievable. I did it in 2004 but this year I was also in the final of the French Open."

Federer is only the third man in the Open era, after Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, to win three consecutive US Open titles. He is also the only man in history to win two Grand Slam titles (Wimbledon and the US Open) back to back in three successive years.

Nadal is sure to offer a major challenge to his record-breaking attempts, but Roddick has now lost 11 of his 12 matches against Federer. Nevertheless, this was a fine comeback by the 2003 US Open champion, who had reached a low point at Wimbledon this summer when he was humiliated in three sets by Andy Murray.

Roddick, who has enjoyed an excellent run under Connors, said he was proud of his achievement in reaching the final and felt he had competed well. "I thought it was a pretty high level of tennis, especially in those middle sets," he said. "There wasn't much between us."

At 5-5 in the third, Roddick had even turned to Patrick McEnroe, the watching US Davis Cup captain, and said: "This is so much fun." Roddick said later: "At that point it was a real battle and I was really enjoying myself out there. It was a lot more fun than a lot of the losses I've had this year."

Federer express: Route to Grand Slam glory

* MOST WINS AT GRAND SLAM SINGLES TOURNAMENTS

14 Pete Sampras

12 Roy Emerson

11 Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver

10 Bill Tilden

9 ROGER FEDERER

8 Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall

* FEDERER'S GRAND SLAM FINALS

2003 Wimbledon. Beat Mark Philippoussis 7-6, 6-2, 7-6

2004 Australian Open. Beat Marat Safin 7-6, 6-4, 6-2

2004 Wimbledon. Beat Andy Roddick 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4

2004 US Open. Beat Lleyton Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0

2005 Wimbledon. Beat Andy Roddick 6-2, 7-6, 6-4

2005 US Open. Beat Andre Agassi 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1

2006 Australian Open. Beat Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2

2006 French Open Lost to Rafael Nadal 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6

2006 Wimbledon. Beat Rafael Nadal 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3

2006 US Open. Beat Andy Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1

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