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Federer beats Murray for fifth U.S. Open title

Monday, September 8, 2008

By HOWARD FENDRICH

AP Tennis Writer

NEW YORK -- No matter what anyone else thought or said, Roger Federer knew he was still capable of elite tennis.

Knew he was still capable of winning Grand Slam titles.

Knew he was still Roger Federer.

Back at his best, back at the top of tennis, Federer easily beat Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 Monday to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship and 13th major title overall.

"I felt like I was invincible for a while again," Federer said.

Federer is the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win this tournament that many times in a row. He also moved within one major championship of tying Pete Sampras' career record of 14.

"One thing's for sure," said Federer, the only man in tennis history to win five consecutive titles at two of the Grand Slam tournaments. "I'm not going to stop at 13. That would be terrible."

Federer struggled at times during a lackluster-only-for-him season. He lost in the semifinals at the Australian Open, and to nemesis Rafael Nadal in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, meaning Federer was on the verge of his first year since 2002 without a major title. Plus, his record 4 1/2-year reign at No. 1 ended when Nadal surpassed him last month.

"I had a couple of tough Grand Slams this year ... so to take this one home is incredible," Federer said after stretching his U.S. Open winning streak to 34 matches. "It means the world to me."

But the sixth-seeded Murray upset Nadal in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows to reach his first Grand Slam final, and Federer had no trouble this time -- even though he had lost two of his previous three matches against the Scotsman.

"I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game," said Murray, who tried to give Britain its first men's major champion in 72 years. "He definitely set the record straight today."

At 21, here's how young Murray is: Back when Federer was winning his first U.S. Open title in 2004, Murray was taking the U.S. Open junior trophy.

"I'm not as nervous any more, like in my first final," Federer said during a prematch TV interview.

Perhaps he was trying to plant doubt in Murray's head. The youngster was standing around the corner, waiting to walk out onto the court, probably already thinking about what it would feel like to be on that stage, with those stakes, against that opponent.

With his bushy hair peeking out from under his gray-and-white baseball cap, unshaven whiskers on his face, and that loping gait, Murray looks much like the college student he otherwise might be if not so talented at tennis.

Federer, coincidentally, was the same age when he played in his first Grand Slam final, back in 2003 at Wimbledon. Except Federer won that match against Mark Philippoussis, and has kept winning major championship matches against everyone except a certain Spaniard: Federer is 2-4 against Nadal in major finals, 13-0 against anyone else.

He accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winners and won the point on 31 of 44 trips to the net. His volleying might have been helped by his work winning a gold medal in doubles at the Beijing Olympics, a result he credited with boosting his confidence.

"Seeing him play like that made me very, very happy for him," said Federer's part-time coach, Jose Higueras, "because he's a great champion and he's gone through some rough times."

Murray -- whose ranking rises to No. 4 -- stood about 10 feet behind the baseline to return serves, exactly the way he did against Nadal in their two-day, rain-interrupted semifinal. And Murray displayed flashes of the get-to-every-ball defense he used against Nadal, including one pretty flick of a lob by Federer with his back to the net.

But Federer, who might have benefited from an extra day to rest because his semifinal wasn't affected by Tropical Storm Hanna, was simply too much for Murray.

Too good.

Too smart.

Too experienced.

Too, well, Federeresque.

At only one juncture did Murray throw a scare into Federer, taking 11 of 12 points to go from 2-0 down in the second set to 2-all and love-40 on Federer's serve.

Federer saved the first break point, and on the second, a 14-stroke rally ended with Murray missing a backhand. TV replays, though, showed one of Federer's shots should have been called out -- and had it been, Murray would have led 3-2.

"Not necessarily would have won the match or anything, but it would have given me a bit of confidence," Murray said.

But there was no call there, and no reprieve, because Federer stayed steady and held serve.

"That was key," Federer said. "After that, I began to play freely, the way I usually do."

In the next game, Murray began clutching at his right knee and looking up at his substantial support group in the stands, a gathering that included his mother, two coaches and two trainers.

Murray, though, said the knee had no bearing on the outcome.

"He made very few mistakes," Murray said. "The times I played him before, he had given me a few free points."

Federer closed the second set on a 10-stroke point that was a thing of beauty. First, Federer extended the point with some superb court coverage, and then -- shifting from defense to offense in a blink -- he ended it with a forehand passing winner.

Federer turned to his guest box -- which included his pal, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour -- and bellowed, punching down with his right fist.

This is how he is supposed to play.

This is how these Grand Slam finals are supposed to go.

Not his lopsided loss to Nadal on clay at Roland Garros, which Federer called "brutal" Monday. Or his heartbreakingly narrow loss to Nadal -- 9-7 in the fifth set in fading light -- on grass at the All England Club, denying Federer a sixth straight title there. Those were two of Federer's 12 losses by August in 2008, more than he had in any entire season from 2004-07. He also arrived in New York with only two titles from minor events in a year that began with a bout of mononucleosis.

"Maybe you can't win everything," said his father, Robert Federer. "After the French Open, you could see many (negative) comments saying 'Federer is gone,' 'Federer will never win another Grand Slam.' And Federer proved the opposite."

When the younger Federer broke serve for the seventh time, ending the match, he rolled around with glee on the blue court. Instead of heading into the offseason wondering what went wrong, the 27-year-old Federer can look ahead with optimism.

When the men met at the net, Murray felt compelled to share a thought with Federer.

"I told him that he had, you know, a phenomenal year," Murray said, "regardless of what anyone said."



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