Federer starts the quest for Grand Slam in sublime style

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The temperature was down to a chilly 16C here last night but there was rarely any danger of Roger Federer catching a cold. The modern game's supreme player continued his assault on the record books when he beat Fernando Gonzalez 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours and 20 minutes to claim his third Australian Open and his 10th Grand Slam title.

In testing conditions, with the wind swirling around Rod Laver Arena, Federer needed all his powers of concentration to hold off Gonzalez (below) during a tight first set that lasted 65 minutes. Once the Chilean had failed to convert either of his two set points, however, he never threatened again.

A new tranche of records falls with every Grand Slam victory for Federer. Having equalled Jack Crawford's 73-year-old mark for consecutive Grand Slam final appearances (seven), he is now the only man to have won three majors at least three times and the first in the Open era to have won three consecutive majors on two occasions. He has won six of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments, suffering his only defeat to Rafael Nadal in last year's French Open final.

Only four men have won more Grand Slam crowns and, at 25, the Swiss is quickly closing on Pete Sampras' record of 14. It would be a surprise if by the end of the year he fails at least to match the second man on the list, Roy Emerson, who won 12 titles, and to overhaul the only other two men above him, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver, who won 11.

Not that Federer needs to be in any sort of rush. After yesterday's victory he confirmed that he would not even think about retiring before the 2012 Olympic Games, where he said the prospect of going for gold on the grass at Wimbledon was "a really big target".

Federer said he found his number of Grand Slam titles "scary". He added: "I was thinking about it this morning when I woke up. If someone had told me I'd win 10 Grand Slams from the middle of 2003 until today I wouldn't have thought there was any chance. I would have signed up for just one." Winning the Grand Slam itself, last achieved by Laver in 1969, will again be a target, especially as he came so close last year. "That's the only way I can make this season a better one," Federer said.

In not dropping a set over the last fortnight the Swiss became the first man to achieve the feat at a Grand Slam tournament since Borg at the 1980 French Open and the first here since Ken Rosewall in 1971. His current winning streak of 36 matches - Andy Murray was the last player to beat him, in Cincinnati last August - is the best of his career and within the next month he will break Jimmy Connors' record for consecutive weeks (160) at world No 1.

The tennis in the final was almost as impressive as the records set, even if Federer never quite matched the heights he had scaled against Andy Roddick in the semi-finals. He attacked the net with purpose, volleyed beautifully, hit 45 winners and made only 19 unforced errors in a match full of high-quality tennis.

In an age of bludgeoning groundstrokes and thumping double-handed backhands, the crowd clearly appreciated a final contested by two players with classical styles. There was plenty of Chilean support for Gonzalez, though the Swiss fans won on the face paint count. There were also more Federer banners, with one proclaiming that "Federer is betterer".

While Gonzalez is no slouch, especially since he lost weight last year, Federer's greater speed around the court was crucial. The Chilean has one of the biggest forehands in the game, but Federer was rarely beaten by it and was nearly always back in prime position by the time his opponent played his next shot. Gonzalez, in contrast, was constantly dragged to the far corners of the court as Federer hit the ball short in search of more acute angles.

Having lost all nine of his previous matches against Federer and won only two sets, Gonzalez knew that he could not outgun the planet's best player. The No 10 seed, who will rise to No 5 in today's new world rankings list, chose instead to slow the match down by slicing the ball heavily on both flanks. The tactic almost worked in the first set. Gonzalez broke to lead 5-4, capitalising on a sloppy Federer game, but was then unable to take either of two set points. The second, a forehand into the net as he went for a winner down the line, might give him a nightmare or two in the coming weeks. Federer himself failed to take advantage of four set points at 6-5, but he took the first five points of the tie-break and went on to win it 7-2.

"The match may have been different if I'd won the first set," Gonzalez said afterwards. "Maybe I would have lost in four sets, but I think every time I play him I never win the first set, so that was maybe a key."

Mr Super Cool was not so sure. "I don't know if it was the turning point," Federer said. "I knew that those weren't match points, they were set points, and you can always take a lost set or even two."

The second and third sets followed an identical pattern. In both Gonzalez took only two points off Federer's serve and held his own with relative ease until the Swiss went up a gear to break at 3-3 and then served out.

After converting his first match point with a backhand winner down the line, Federer fell on his back in celebration. Unlike last year, there were no tears from the Swiss at the presentation ceremony, only smiles. Gonzalez, a gracious loser, captured the mood when he said: "I would like to congratulate Roger for playing a great match today, this week and the whole of his life."

Comments