Federer's ready to fulfill ranking

Updated: January 31, 2004, 12:51 AM ET
By Malivai Washington | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Without question, Roger Federer and Marat Safin are playing the best tennis of anyone in the world right now.

With his semifinal victory against Juan Carlos Ferrero, Federer will take over as No. 1 when the ATP entry rankings are released on Monday. More than that, though, he's respected and well-liked.

What endears so many people to Federer is his great tennis ability and likeable personality. His classic game is a perfect match for his personal style. He's a throwback to the players of old who congratulated their opponents on a good shot, didn't question line calls and were modest in victory. You don't find those qualities often in players today, and that's probably why Federer will end up being one of the most admired No. 1 players -- by the fans and fellow players.

Now, his focus turns completely to winning a second Grand Slam title. When Federer and Safin are playing their best tennis, it's hard to imagine how they can possibly be defeated. The final (ESPN, 10 p.m. ET, Sat.) will be great because of their contrasting styles.

Federer has a classic game with every shot imaginable. Safin is the big Russian who has an overpowering game that will come at you only one way: full force.

The keys in this match are going to be typical stats: first serve percentage, first serve return points won and break points converted. Usually, the player who wins more points in a match is the player who wins the match. That was not the case with Safin and Andre Agassi in the semifinals; Agassi actually won one more point than Safin. So, the player who comes out on top in two of those statistical areas will most likely be the player who wins the championship.

If Federer prevails, he will not only solidify his position as the best talent in the world but also confirm his No. 1 ranking with a victory. He will most likely -- an early call here -- finish the year No. 1. Once a player proves he or she can win multiple majors on different surfaces, that player becomes a serious threat at every major.

If Safin wins the title, it will put him back in the tennis elite, where he should have been all along. This might be the beginning of a great few years for Safin. If he can keep his head about him and his focus on tennis, he might end his career with four or five Grand Slam titles.

This match has the potential to be one of the greatest finals we've seen since Andre Agassi's five-set victory in the final of the French Open in 1999. It could go either way, but look for Federer to win in five sets.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.