Nalbandian upset ends Federer's great run

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer's record-chasing run ended in a dramatic five-set defeat yesterday to David Nalbandian in the Tennis Masters Cup final.

Nalbandian, who made the eight-man draw because of a spate of withdrawals, ended Federer's 35-match winning streak with a come-from-behind 6-7 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory.

Federer, who won back-to-back Masters Cup titles undefeated in 2003 and 2004, came into the tournament after six weeks off with an injured right ankle.

The 24-year-old Swiss star rallied from 0-4 in the deciding set and was two points from victory serving at 6-5 and 30-0 before Nalbandian broke back to force a tiebreaker.

Nalbandian earned three championship points when Federer buried a backhand into the net after 4 hours, 33 minutes.

The eighth-seeded Argentine clinched it when Federer netted a forehand. He dropped to his back on the court.

Federer, who had won his last 24 finals - an alltime record - walked slumped into a chair.

"I want to congratulate Roger - we played an incredible match," said Nalbandian, who collected US$1.4 million in prizemoney and will move from 12th to a career-high No. 6 year-end rankings.

"Roger, don't worry, it's not your last final," added Nalbandian. "You're going to win a lot of tournaments, so let me keep this one."

Federer finished one short of John McEnroe's Open era record (82-3) for best winning percentage in a season, ending 2005 at 81-4.

"It's been a fantastic year ... unfortunately I couldn't win the last one but this year will be a great memory for me," said Federer. "To be back after the injury - I'm happy I made it so far. I'm proud of that.

"Disappointment is always there, because I don't lose very often ... I still get that feeling. It's good like this." Federer said he was on crutches three weeks ago, so reaching the final was one of his greatest achievements on "a human" scale.

"I came much closer than I ever thought," he said. "I cannot believe myself I came back in the fifth, but somehow I did."

Federer didn't seem too bothered that his slew of streaks had ended. "I knew I was putting all those records on the line when I came here," he said. "It's just a pity now that I was so close."

Federer had only once lost a best-of-five set match after leading 2-0 - to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt in the 2003 Davis Cup semifinal.

Nalbandian has come back twice this year from 0-2 in a five-setter. He made Federer run to the net constantly, using slice backhands and drop shots to draw him in, then whipping winners back past him.

Federer needed treatment on his left thigh after the fifth game of the fourth set, and told the trainer he was almost exhausted. sked later if he'd contemplated retiring, Federer replied: "No. Roger Federer doesn't pull out - otherwise he doesn't walk on court."