Federer the Escape Artist Wins 18th Consecutive Final at ATP Miami

Posted on April 4, 2005

Federer From 0-2 Sets Down to Win ATP Miami Title

by Richard Vach, Tennis-X Senior Writer

Trailing 0-2 sets and 1-4 in the third in the best-of-five set Miami final Sunday, things looked pretty bleak for world No. 1 Roger Federer.

Like his pre-No. 1 days there were plenty of shanks off the frame, missed opportunities, uncharacteristic racquet abuse, muttering and, at times, outright screaming. Across the net stood the muscular 18-year-old Spaniard who looked like a walking orange-sicle who wandered in off of South Beach in white clam-digger pants below the knees and a sleeveless day-glow orange shirt with white headband.

The teen prodigy Rafael Nadal, who one year ago in Miami handed Federer one of only six losses during his 2004 season, was leveling weaponry the Swiss had already said he feared before they took the court: penetrating, heavy groundstrokes delivered with a lefty spin, forcing the world No. 1 to hit balls above his shoulders -- the same high-bouncing ball to the backhand that grounded Pete's Sampras' Roland Garros campaign year after year.

Two sets down and trailing 1-4, Federer saw a number of records going out the window: a potential 18th consecutive win in a tournament final, adding to his current Open Era record; a potential 22nd match win in a row and a potential 32-1 win-loss record, the best start since John McEnroe's 39-0 start in 1984; a fourth consecutive tournament win in 2005, and eight out of the last nine played; and 48 of 49 potential matches won since last year's US Open.

At two points from losing the match in the third set, the Swiss thought, 'Cut those records short and add a '1' to the loss column...Wonder where Mirka wants to have dinner tonight. South Beach might be nice, lots of selection there. Hmmm, sure is hot out here. Nadal looks like a cream-sicle in that outfit, with they had a courtside ice cream concession stand. Did I set the VCR to tape 'Pimp My Ride'?'

Staring into such a void against one of the hottest players on the ATP with one of the biggest forehands, and struggling mightily simply to hold serve, it forces one to ask the question after Federer's gutsy 2-6, 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-1 win: If he can win such a match on one of his worst days, how the hell can anyone beat Roger Federer?

"I was very worried today," said Federer, who totaled a whopping 74 unforced errors. "Especially the first set, I don't lose sets very often 6-2, you know, so this really shows you that I was struggling. But I think it's got a lot to do with his game. He's left-handed, I had to get used to (it), and couldn't quite do that. Maybe played a little bit too aggressive in the beginning."

Federer gave a preview of his struggles during three-set wins earlier in the event over Mariano Zabaleta and Mario Ancic. With no left-handed players in the Top 20 before Nadal's ascendence this week, Federer said the spin-heavy game of the Spaniard gives him a look he rarely sees.

"Because he's a lefty, it kind of changes so many things," Federer said. "His forehand is huge. Even on the run, (he) can hit it with the spins, backhand to the court, make you hit another tough shot -- anyway for me...(The forehand) bounces very high, you know. He doesn't play it very long, but short so it bounces high. Until you actually realize that you can actually attack the ball, it's too late and it gets up high on you. From then on, it's actually a very risky shot to go for something."

In addition to glaring at a spectator who shouted "Wake up!" before one of his service deliveries, Federer engaged in some uncharacteristic racquet-throwing that harkened back to his junior days.

"I was very disappointed, you know," Federer said of his struggle before eventually taking the third set tiebreak to regain his mojo. "I was missing one opportunity after the other. I really felt like I'm climbing uphill all the time, and I had an opportunity and I missed it again and just had enough, you know. So I threw (the racquet) hard and, I don't know, maybe -- who knows -- it did me good and I kind of woke up maybe."

Nadal had visibly run out of gas in the fifth set after hours of emotional displays and baseline scrambling, but Federer said the Spaniard's problems were apparent as early as the second set.

"Middle through the second, you know, I already had the feeling he wasn't hitting the ball as hard anymore," Federer said. "But anyway he ended up winning it. Couple of points, you know, he can put unbelievable pace on the ball. Of course, you know, in the fifth set I started to feel like, you know, maybe his legs were getting a little bit tired and he couldn't quite use the game like he wanted to."

Nadal, who made his debut in the Top 20 today on the ATP Rankings at No. 17, said one or two points (or one of two bad line calls) made the difference in the match.

"I am happy for my tennis. I am improving. I am playing good," said Nadal, who complained of a line call that would have given him a 0-40 look on Federer's serve late in the third set. "But today I won two sets to love, 4-1 in the third, 4-3, Love-30, and the ball, the forehand of Federer, is out, should. The referee say good. But 5-3 in the tiebreak, he play one forehand on the line. But he is the No. 1, no? He won this matches and I am happy with my tennis and not too happy for the result final, no?"

No, not too happy with the result, or his first-round draw this week in Valencia against former No. 1 and French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero. But yes, happy with his form entering his favorite claycourt season.

Nadal had only four aces over the five sets, but broke Federer's serve five times Sunday. That's an average of one break per set for your struggling with the math, normally good enough to win against a top player on hardcourt, but not when you're still muscle-spinning in your own serve, and facing the world No. 1, even on his worst day. Nadal is still seeking his first career hardcourt trophy-raising, but entered Miami with two consecutive claycourt titles.

In the women's double final, No. 3 seeds Svetlana Kuznetsova/Alicia Molik defeated No. 5 seeds Lisa Raymond/Rennae Stubbs 7-5, 6-7(5), 6-2 for their second title this year following their win at the Australian Open.

Davenport Leads Five of Top 10 on Dirt at WTA Amelia Island

Six of the Top 10 players on the WTA Rankings kick off the claycourt season this week at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island, led by world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport on her farewell tour.

Sixteen players are seeded on the dirt at the Florida resort, with Davenport joined by fellow Top 8 seeds Serena Williams who is looking to regain the top spot, Russian and current French Open holder Anastasia Myskina, Aussie comer Alicia Molik, the resurgent Venus Williams, Russians Vera "The Crying Game" Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova, and Swiss miss Patty "Handshake" Schnyder.

Seemingly gone are the days when Serena and Venus avoided playing the same tournament, with the sisters at the height of their power almost assuredly destined to meet in the final.

Davenport defends her title from 2004 when she defeated Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in the final. Davenport's 2005 draw is soft until the quarterfinals when she would likely face the No. 5-seeded Venus, while the No. 2-seeded Serena's draw heats up sooner with a potential third-round meeting with No. 14 seed and former French Open winner Mary Pierce.

Opening-round matches of interest are Israeli wildcard Shahar Peer vs. Aussie comer Sam Stosur, winner to face (5) Myskina; (16) Shinobu Asagoe vs. resurgent American Mashona Washington; (7) Petrova in a potential second-round meeting with former Top 5-er Maggie Maleeva; Chinese comer Shuai Peng vs. Meghann Shaughnessy, winner to face (6) The Crying Game; and Tathiana Garbin hoping to set up an all-Italian meeting with (12) Silvia Farina Elia if she can get past Spain's Anabel "Funky Cold" Medina Garrigues.

Additional wildcards went to Aussie Nicole Pratt (?!?), Czech Daja Bedanova, and Greek Eleni Daniilidou.

Returning champions in the field are Davenport (2004,'97), Venus (2002), Pierce (1998), and Conchita Martinez (1995).

Nadal, Clay Veterans Kick Off Dirt Season at ATP Valencia

While there isn't a Top 10 player in sight this week for the kick-off of the claycourt season at the ATP stop in Valencia, the field holds drama galore in a mix of dirt veterans, fan favorites returning from injury and hot-handed youngsters.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko, who many fans would be hard-pressed to pick out of a convenience store hold-up line-up, heads the field. But the real stories include three-time Roland Garros winner Gustavo Kuerten making his 2005 debut after hip surgery; Spain's Rafael "The Prodigy" Nadal coming off his astounding near-miss against world No. 1 Roger Federer on hardcourt in Miami; former No. 1 and Roland Garros winner Juan Carlos Ferrero looking to the dirt to launch his campaign to reemerge as a top player; and two other former Roland Garros stand-outs in former champ Al Costa and runner-up Alex Corretja.

Other seeds in Valencia are Chile's Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez, The Prodigy, Olivier "The Roach" Rochus, Miami semifinalist Dave Ferrer and defending champ Fernando "Hot Sauce" Verdasco of Spain, Russian Igor Andreev, and Dane Kenneth Carlsen.

Opening-round matches of interest abound on the dirt in (1) Davydenko vs. Costa, (4) The Roach vs. Kuerten, Al Martin vs. Al Montanes in an all-Al-all-the-time-all-Spanish meeting, a spray-fest in Croatia's "Dr." Ivo Karlovic vs. Iraki "Freak Show" Labadze, (5) Ferrer vs. Julien "United Colors of" Benneteau, and in what could easily be the final rather than a first-round meeting, (3) Nadal vs. Ferrero in an all-Spanish.

Nadal's youthful exuberance will be tested against the former French Open champ Ferrero after coming off the grueling week in Miami and the best-of-five set final against Federer.

On court Monday in Valencia are (7) Andreev vs. (WC) Vicente, (4) The Roach vs. Kuerten, Phau vs. (2) Gonzo, (WC) Matos Gil vs. Koubek, and Freak Show vs. "Dr." Ivo.

Returning champions in the field are Verdasco (2004), Ferrero (2003,'99), Al Martin (2001), Kuerten (1998), and Al Costa (1997).

Schuettler Leads Tour Dregs at ATP Casablanca

German Rainer "Shine" Schuettler leads the Top 20-less field this week during the kick-off of the claycourt season at Casablanca, where unseeded and unheralded Spaniard Santiago Ventura returns to defend his title.

Joining Schuettler among the seeds are Italy's Filippo Volandri, Peru's Luis "Me So" Horna, France's Fabrice "The Original Wizard" Santoro, German Florian "Oscar" Mayer, Argentine veteran Mariano Puerta, Luxembourg's Gilles Muller, and Belgium Christophe "The Roach" Rochus.

Opening-round matches of interest are defending champ Ventura vs. former champ and wildcard Hicham "Up" Arazi, (3) Horna vs. French comeback veteran Arnaud Clement, and (2) Volandri vs. Moroccan wildcard and former winner Younes El Aynaoui.

On court Monday in Casablanca are (7) Muller vs. Lisnard, (WC) Tahiri vs. (8) The Roach, (1) Schuettler vs. Zib, Nieminen vs. Hanescu, and Almagro vs. Burgsmuller.

Returning champions in the field are Ventura (2004), El Aynaoui (2002), and Arazi (1997).

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Nice running commentary during the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal match by the X-Board message freaks, you scare us -- much better than CBS's Tim Ryan (though we do love us some Mary Carillo)...Is it any wonder why tennis fans are confused in the U.S. with CBS showing a graphic of Rafael Nadal in the Top 5 on the "Champions Race" standings when he is not even in the Top 20 on the actual ATP Rankings? Let's just all drop the Champions Race coverage, or rename it something apt like the 2005-Only Points Standings...Roger Federer is the sixth man to grab the Indian Wells-Miami double in the same year, joining Andre Agassi (2001), Marcelo Rios (1998), Pete Sampras (1994), Michael Chang (1992), and Jim Courier (1991)...Roger Federer is now 8-8 in career five-set matches...Roger Federer on his approach to winning his first French Open in 2005: "It's more endurance. I'll definitely work, you know, my physical part as well, you know, again. But there's only so much you can do before, before the French. You always have to watch out, as a tennis player, I think, to have everything. My potential relies also very much on my explosiveness; I've got to use that on clay as well. But I know I got the game, and I know I can hang tough now for five sets without a problem, where in the past maybe that wasn't always the case. So I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's very clear. But to be honest, I haven't thought too much about the clay yet, you know. So we'll see what happens."...Washed up and married at age 19, American Ashley "Anna 2.0" Harkleroad will attempt a comeback this week at the Memphis Challenger. Harkleroad is unseeded after not competing since last August after injury, but is better off than Jaslyn "Little Sis" Hewitt who is slated to play the qualifying...Roger Federer is the first top seed to win in Miami in 11 years, and contrary to rumors is not in line for the popehood...From Sunday's TR.net lead sentence on the Roger Federer win: "So, Roger Federer can back from the near dead after all." That was a good can back, wasn't it. Yu guyz badlee need en editer, spellchek alone is'nt cuting it, eh? All in good humor...ESPN2 will pick up it's Amelia Island coverage Friday through Sunday...Kim Clijsters rose to No. 17 on the WTA Rankings after her win in Miami...Gaston Gaudio is at a career-high No. 6 on the ATP Rankings after his Miami effort.