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Federer slams door shut on Baghdatis

1/31/2006 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Always in control on the court,
Roger Federer was overcome with emotion while accepting his
Australian Open trophy from one of the few people he's still trying
to match.

The top-ranked Federer fulfilled overwhelming expectations by
beating unlikely finalist Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 in
Sunday's final to claim his seventh Grand Slam title and third in
succession.

He tearfully embraced tennis great Rod Laver while receiving his
trophy. Laver twice swept the Grand Slams, a feat Federer will try
to emulate this season -- if he finally can win a French Open.

Federer wept and was stuck for words at the award presentation.

"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.

"I can't block it out -- I'm also just human."

Federer maintained his perfect record in seven major finals.
And, at 24, he's halfway toward Pete Sampras' all-time record of 14
Grand Slam titles. Sampras also was 24 when he won his seventh.

Federer, who is the first since Sampras to win three consecutive
majors, said he was unusually nervous as an overwhelming favorite
against the 54th-ranked Cypriot, a former junior world champion.

"The whole fact of being such a huge favorite. And if I lose, a
huge upset since I don't know when," Federer said. "The whole
thing was building up and waiting all day for the night session --
that is nerve-racking on top of it. It was really tough for me
mentally."

An 11-game winning streak from 5-5 in the second set eased
Federer's nerves and took the match away from Baghdatis, who said
his problems started when he began to think a huge upset was within
reach.

Baghdatis' raucous fans, who grew in number as he ousted
second-seeded Andy Roddick, No. 4 David Nalbandian and two other
seeded players in the tournament, chanted between points. Dressed
as if for a soccer match, they waved flags, cheered and whistled to
the end.

"I wanted to continue being aggressive ... not to give Federer
time to play his game," Baghdatis said. "Maybe I was a bit scared
of him. Maybe I didn't really believe it. Things were happening so
fast."

Federer acknowledged being concerned about a massive upset after
falling a set and a break behind.

"I was struggling so much to hold my serve ... I was sweating
like crazy," he said. "I thought, 'Well, if this is going to
continue, I'll probably lose and [only] a miracle is going to save
me."'

Baghdatis had three game points at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker in
the second, but Federer rallied to break on a Baghdatis forehand
that was ruled just long.

Federer then lifted his level of play, winning 27 of the 37
points in the third set to take control.

Baghdatis had cramps in his left calf in the fourth set, and
treatment didn't help. He later said they probably were due to
nerves.

Federer set up match point with a forehand crosscourt, his 50th
winner, and sealed the 2½-hour victory when Baghdatis netted a
backhand.

Federer's next career goal is a French Open title. A win at
Roland Garros would give him four consecutive majors across two
seasons, and he'd be halfway to a proper Grand Slam -- last
accomplished by Laver in 1969.

"Absolutely, there's some pressure there. I feel it already,"
Federer said.

Laver twice won all four majors in one season -- the first time
before turning pro in 1962.

Federer's seven major titles tie him with eight other players --
including John McEnroe, John Newcombe and Mats Wilander -- and leave
him one behind Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry
and Ken Rosewall.

He passed childhood heroes Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, who
had six apiece.

"I left my idols behind me now. That means something, I'm very
pleased," he said. "But they're still my heroes from back in the
day, Becker and Edberg."

Sampras won his seventh major in his 22nd try. Federer was
playing in his 27th. 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."