Federer outlasts Ljubicic to win Rotterdam Open

Roger Federer triumphed in his 15th straight final without a loss on Sunday as he shut down the 782 250-euros Rotterdam Open.

The Swiss world number one, who claimed 11 titles in 2004, now has two for this season—both at the expense of his 19th ranked Croatian opponent.

Federer started the year with a win over the 25-year-old at Doha; the loss in two hours, 42 minutes was the third this season in a final for Ljubicic, beaten a week ago in Marseille by Swede Joachim Johansson.

Federer, playing for the first time since losing in the Australian Open semifinal to Marat Safin, has not been beaten in a tournament final since July, 2003, when Jiri Novak stopped him on clay at Gstaad.

“I don’t know where the secret comes from,” said Federer, who has won 24 career crowns.

“You play one good final [like the US Open where he hammered Lleyton Hewitt last September] and suddenly you’re on a roll.

“People start to talk and you’re worried if it’s going to last. Every time I win a semifinal I put pressure on myself,” he said with a knowing smile.

The Swiss lost his serve for the first time this week at the hands of Ljubicic in the first set.

Federer takes away a cheque for 147 000 euros as he heads to Dubai to headline next week’s ATP event along with Andre Agassi and Safin.

The Swiss winner struck a dozen aces, 42 unforced errors and 28 winners as he defeated Ljubicic for the fifth time in eight meetings.

“Today was very close, it could have gone either way,” said Federer. “I’m happy I fought through, this will be big help for rest of season.

“This is a huge tournament, it ranks just after the Grand Slams and the Masters Series.”

Federer said that things could have been somewhat easier.

“I was hoping that the final would go like it did in Doha [in January].
We had a a tough first set there and then it was one-way traffic.

“Today, it was a different story, I knew quickly that it would be more difficult to break him. I had to focus, he was getting more balls back on my serve. I knew I had to fight hard.”

Federer had to work his hardest by far of the week, finally coming back from 2-4 down in the final-set tie-breaker.

Ljubicic sealed his fate with a backhand wide which gave Federer two match points. The seed converted on the second from the Croatian’s error.

The Swiss settled in for a mainly baseline battle, but Ljubicic was determined to make a match of it against the overwhelming favourite.

Staying in tough with his third ace for a 5-5 scoreline, Ljubicic put Federer into 0-40 trouble in the next game and handed the top seed his first break of serve this week after 46 holds as the Swiss netted a pass for 5-6.

“I played a shocking game to lose serve, I missed three forehands in a row,” Federer confessed.

“That can happen, but I was able to play around it That game haunted me until match point. I had to react and fight, I did well today and I’m happy.”

Federer quickly mounted a fightback effort only to find the eager Ljubicic standing at the net waiting to cut off a return with a quick volley for a set point.

The top-seeded Federer saved that one with a return, but produced a forehand error at exactly the wrong instant to hand over another set-winning chance to the Croatian.

Ljubicic took it after 47 minutes when Federer’s usually reliable inside-out forehand landed just wide.

The Croatian continued to threaten in the second set, with Federer forced to work to stay in control.

After failing on several more break point chances, the top seed found an opening in the 12th game, squaring the match at a set each when Ljubicic landed a return long on set point. - Sapa-AFP

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