Federer adds another grand-slam title

A tearful Roger Federer claimed his seventh grand-slam title on Sunday, overcoming an early challenge from unseeded Marcos Baghdatis to win the Australian Open 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2.

Federer’s experience under pressure showed as the top-ranked Swiss star stepped up his game and won 11 straight games from 5-5 in the second set.

The 24-year-old Federer won the Wimbledon and United States Open titles last year. He will try to win his fourth straight major later this year on clay at the French Open—the only grand-slam event he has never won.

Federer broke down in tears and repeatedly had to take time to gather himself after he got the champion’s trophy from Rod Laver, the last man to sweep all four grand-slam events in the same year, in 1969.

“I guess it’s all coming out now,” Federer said. “I’ve had some hard speeches, but this one is a little rough right now.”

He thanked Laver, his voice breaking one last time, and then embraced the 67-year-old Australian.

Federer later said he’d gotten nervous because the match didn’t start until 7.30pm, and then had too much time to think about the implications of winning as he finished off Baghdatis.

“I saw him struggling and I was playing so well at that moment,” Federer said.

After the match ended, “I was so happy,” he said.
“Then I had to go up on stage and speak. This is really too much for me sometimes. It’s just a dream come true every time I win a grand slam.”

Baghdatis’s rowdy fans, who grew in number as he knocked off second-seeded Andy Roddick, number four David Nalbandian and two other seeded players in the tournament, couldn’t help the Cypriot rally this time.

Despite the loss, Baghdatis said his dream had come true, too, just by reaching the final.

“It’s just amazing,” he said after playfully shushing his cheering fans. “I love everybody watching in Cyprus. Kisses.”

Federer is drawing comparisons to Pete Sampras, who won 14 grand-slam events in his career and was the last man to win three consecutive majors (Wimbledon and US Open in 1993 and Australian Open in 1994).

Their birthdays are four days apart, and they won their seventh grand-slam titles at the same age.

“It’s quite scary if I compare it,” Federer said. “I’m on the same road, but I’ve got to maintain it. It would be great to challenge it, but it’s not my first priority.”

Four in a row also would give him a “Roger Slam”—similar to the “Serena Slam” that Serena Williams won on the women’s side in 2002/03.

With a boisterous atmosphere more akin to a World Cup soccer final, a buzz permeated Rod Laver Arena well before the match started: Could Baghdatis—a 500-to-1 long shot in November who had never gone past the fourth round of a grand-slam event—really knock off the man dominating the men’s tour?

It looked improbable at best. Federer had won all three of their previous matches, including earlier this month in Doha. But Baghdatis made believers of the crowd for a while.

It was a perfect night for tennis after two weeks of occasionally unbearable heat and sudden storms. While there were plenty of red-and-white Swiss flags scattered around the stadium, the dominant colours were Greek blue and white. Signs of “Go Marcos, you rule” were mixed with “We luv you, Federer”.

Baghdatis’s backers chanted between points, giving chair umpire Pascal Maria a real challenge to maintain control. One man, in a traditional Greek outfit, danced on his chair.

As in Baghdatis’s earlier matches—including a semifinal victory over Nalbandian in which he rallied from two sets down—the Cypriot was nerveless early, shaking off errors with stinging baseline winners.

In fact, it was the normally implacable Federer who blinked first. Serving at 5-5 in the first set, he fended off two break points before committing back-to-back forehand errors—the latter after he halted his service motion when a fan shouted: “Settle, Roger, settle!”

Flashing his infectious smile and using his racket to bounce the ball once between his legs before each serve—a move that he picked up from watching Federer—Baghdatis held easily to finish off the set as the crowd roared.

He broke Federer again to start the second set and had two break opportunities to go up 3-0 before Federer fought back to level at 3-3.

Baghdatis, a former junior world champion, had three game points at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker, but Federer rallied to break on a Baghdatis forehand that was ruled just long. The Cypriot, who questions calls infrequently, did this time. But TV replays showed the ruling was correct.

Federer ran off 27 of the 37 points in the third set to take control.

Baghdatis had played two consecutive five-setters and three overall in the tournament, and the wear and tear started to show. He suffered a cramp in his left calf in the second game of the fourth set, and the brilliant winners came less often as the errors piled up.

Federer got just 53% of his first serves but smacked 11 aces and 50 winners to go along with 48 unforced errors. He won his 11th consecutive game to go up 3-0 in the final set.

Getting treatment on his calf at every changeover, Baghdatis tried to rally one last time and had a break point with Federer serving at 4-2 that would have gotten him back on serve, but Federer held, and then broke for the eighth time. A forehand cross-court set up match point, and Baghdatis netted a backhand to finish it in two hours and 46 minutes.

Federer raised his arms in triumph and applauded his racket in acknowledgment of the crowd’s ovation.—Sapa-AP

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