Gonzalez faces speedy end to quest for glory

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The Independent Online

Against anyone else Fernando Gonzalez would surely fancy his chances in tomorrow's final of the Australian Open. The 26-year-old Chilean, one of the game's most improved players, has reached the final of four of his last five tournaments and in his first Grand Slam semi-final swept aside Tommy Haas yesterday with a torrent of winners. Unfortunately for the world No 9, he has suffered nine defeats in his nine matches against his next opponent and won just two sets.

While the new wave headed by Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic can look ahead to a time in their careers when Roger Federer will no longer gorge himself on the game's major prizes, the players of the 25-year-old world No 1's own generation are having to make do with scraps from the master's table.

This will be Federer's seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, equalling the record set by the Australian Jack Crawford 73 years ago. He has won nine of the last 14 Grand Slam events. Only five players have won more and Federer is closing in fast on Pete Sampras, who tops the list with 14.

The Swiss is on an unbeaten run of 35 matches (Murray was the last player to beat him, in Cincinnati last August), which equals his best winning sequence, set two years ago.

On the evidence of the last fortnight he is getting even better. His 83-minute semi-final victory over Andy Roddick, in which he dropped only six games, was full of glorious attacking strokes, sublime touches and wonderful improvisation. If Federer wins in straight sets tomorrow, he will be the first player since Bjorn Borg at the 1980 French Open to win a Grand Slam tournament without losing a set.

Rod Laver, the last player to win all four Grand Slam events in one season, was in the stadium named after him to watch Federer's semi-final and went into the locker room afterwards to congratulate him.

"I think he's got a great chance of being the best ever," Laver said. "Roger's got too many shots, too much talent in one body. It's hardly fair that one person can do all this - his backhands, his forehands, volleys, serving, his court position, the way he moves around the court. You feel like he's barely touching the ground. That's the sign of a great champion."

Gonzalez says he appreciates the size of his task. "Roger's the No 1 player in the world by far," he said. "But I'm playing much better now than the last time that we met and it is only one match. I'm going to give everything that I have."

"Speedy" Gonzalez won the first 11 points and took only eight minutes more than Federer to win his semi-final, beating Haas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Under Larry Stefanki, who became his coach last year, the slimline Gonzalez is quicker around the court and more patient. His sliced backhand, his most improved stroke, kept the rallies going until he had the chance to unleash his thunderous forehand.

The match statistics were remarkable: Gonzalez hit 42 winners and nine aces and made just three unforced errors. "For many years I would normally hit two winners and make 45 unforced errors," he said.

Haas paid tribute to Gonzalez's "great tennis", but was diplomatic when asked about the final. "If he can make very few unforced errors and play like he did tonight, I think it would be a good match," Haas said. "We'll see what happens."

* Tim Henman has still not recovered from the knee injury which kept him out of the Australian Open and has withdrawn from next week's indoor tournament in Zagreb.

Dyce takes over Murray's mantle with junior title

Judy Murray was in the stadium as a Scottish teenager she has nurtured won an Australian Open title here last night. It was not her son, Andy, but Graeme Dyce, whom she coached from the age of eight. The 17-year-old from Edinburgh won the boys' doubles final alongside the Finn, Harri Heliovaara, the unseeded pair beating Australia's Stephen Donald and India's Rupesh Roy 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.

Dyce, who lost in the first round of the singles after injuring his wrist, is the first British winner at a Grand Slam junior event since Murray won the 2004 US Open. He trains at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida.

"It was only our third tournament together, but we're looking to keep the partnership going wherever possible," Dyce said.