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Gonzalez grit makes Federer look mortal

Roger Federer lost consecutive matches for the first time in four and a half years yesterday when he was beaten here by Fernando Gonzalez, of Chile, at the season-ending Masters Cup for the world's top eight players.

Federer, the top seed, had beaten Gonzalez, the No 7 seed, in 10 previous meetings, but lost 3-6, 7-6, 7-5. "It was a tough defeat," the Swiss world No 1 said. "I thought I played pretty good. I wish I had an excuse.

"I thought it was ridiculous some of the shots he was coming up with," Federer added, a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes.

"I can't do much when he drills that incredible forehand in the corner. I wish I had an excuse but I just lost the tie-break in a bad way and never got the edge in the third set."

A jubilant Gonzalez said: "I have really a lot of motivation. After 10 matches, it's my turn now. I think the key of the match was my serve and don't be scared to go for my shots. That was really important."

Federer had appeared to be in control of the Red Group match after taking the opening set, but he lost his temper after Gonzalez ripped through the second-set tie-break 7-1. The 12-times Grand Slam champion vented his fury at the umpire on returning to his chair and his mood darkened further in the third set. His frustration grew as Gonzalez saved five break points on his way to victory.

Federer won three Grand Slam titles in 2007 and has already clinched the No 1 ranking for the fourth straight year. But he has been vulnerable over the past month, falling twice to the ninth-ranked David Nalbandian, first in Madrid, then in the third round at Paris, his last match before meeting Gonzalez here.

The last time Federer lost two matches in a row was in 2003 when he fell in the third round at Hamburg, then in the first round at the French Open. Yet if he beats Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko here, he should reach the semi-finals.

Earlier, Roddick survived a second-set lapse to beat the fourth-ranked Davydenko, of Russia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Mixing up his powerful serve and forehand with forays to the net, the American fended off four break points in the first game, broke Davydenko once to take the first set and again to go up 4-3 in the second.

After appearing in complete control, Roddick, the world No 5, then won only two points in the next three games as the Russian broke twice to level the match.

Roddick smashed his racket after missing a forehand wide on set point, then managed to pull himself together, running off five straight games to take a 5-1 lead in the third.

Did it help to break the racket, which he gave to fans afterward? "For as many times as it's helped me, it's hurt me," Roddick said. "It's just part of my personality."

After Davydenko held, Roddick finished off the Red Group match by extending his dominance on serve, holding to love.