Nerve-racked Federer has Sampras in his sights

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The Independent Online

Making history can be a nerve-racking business. In his all-black outfit Roger Federer looked as cool as a New York fashionista, but the world No 1's stomach was churning. Federer admits that his thoughts are turning more and more towards Pete Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles and, as the prospect of No 12 loomed here, he became apprehensive.

"I've had an upset stomach for the last few days," the Swiss admitted after his 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Novak Djokovic in Sunday night's men's singles final of the US Open. "I've been nervous and shaking and had cold hands before the match. I've had it all. I'm supposed to be the experienced guy, who's got used to the situation, but you never do. "

Federer, nevertheless, said that he felt fine by the end of the warm-up. Instead it was his young opponent who suffered stage fright, just as his big chance arrived. Playing in his first Grand Slam final, Djokovic matched Federer blow for blow in a tight first set until the world No 1 dropped his serve to trail 5-6. The 20-year-old Serb then went 40-0 up with a booming ace, upon which his nerve – and his backhand – disintegrated. Federer saved five set points and won the tie-break 7-4.

The second set followed a similar pattern, with Federer saving two set points at 5-6 and taking the tie-break 7-2 with a wonderful backhand winner after a near-perfect display of serving. If there was a key part of Federer's game here, it was his serve: over the fortnight he made 75 aces and just 11 double-faults.

Djokovic, whose outstanding year has also featured semi-final appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, agreed afterwards that nerves had got the better of him. "I just needed to calm down and wait for my chances, which I didn't," he said. "I think I was mentally weaker today, but it was my first Grand Slam final, in front of 23,000 people, and I was under a lot of pressure."

Federer admitted that a straight-sets defeat was "a bit brutal" for the Serb and added: "I've enjoyed having young guys challenging me. This is probably my biggest motivation out there. Seeing them challenge me and then beating them in the final is really the best feeling."

Asked whether Djokovic could replace Rafael Nadal as the world No 2, Federer replied with a smile: "No 2, No 3, it doesn't matter much. It's No 1 that matters."

The first man for 84 years to win the title here four years in a row, Federer now has only Sampras ahead of him on the list of Grand Slam victories after matching Roy Emerson's total. He took longer than many to win his first – Federer was 21 when he initially won Wimbledon in 2003 – but he has since accumulated his titles faster than any player in history. This was his 34th Grand Slam tournament, whereas Sampras and Emerson won their 12th titles in their 40th and 46th majors respectively.

Until recently, the 26-year-old Federer had looked no further than the 2012 Olympic tournament at Wimbledon, but the alarming news for all his rivals is that he is now thinking further ahead. "I would like to play tennis as long as possible and I believe it's realistic to play until I'm 35," Federer revealed. "Maybe I won't play 20 to 25 tournaments any more, perhaps only 10 to 15. I also think that it would be good for the tour if I stick to the game for as long as possible.

"Of course, I need to stay healthy as well. Maybe I'll get tired of all this travelling but, right now, the years pass extremely quickly."

Federer at Grand Slams

* Wimbledon

Winner 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

* Australian Open

Winner 2004, 2006, 2007

* US Open

Winner 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007

* French Open

Runner-up 2006, 2007