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Federer perfect in winning Australian Open

1/28/2007 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Roger Federer held back the tears
this time. He didn't hold back much else at the Australian Open.

Federer underlined his 10th Grand Slam singles title by winning
21 straight sets, saving a set point in Sunday's final before
finishing off Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4.

The last man to go through a major without dropping a set was
Bjorn Borg at the 1980 French Open. The only other man to win the
Australian Open without dropping a set was Ken Rosewall in 1971,
although he had to play only five matches.

"Equaling records, doing something that hasn't been done for a
long time, it's really nice, no doubt," Federer said. "All I care
about in the end is to hopefully hold that trophy. Of course, now
that it's over, it's great to think, 'Wow, you know, not having
dropped a set.' It's quite amazing."

Rosewall was in the crowd Sunday night, and Federer gave him a
nod in a composed victory speech. It was the mere presence of
another Australian great, Rod Laver, that reduced Federer to tears
the previous year at the trophy presentation.

"I can't force them out every year!" Federer said of his
sobbing celebration in 2006, when he accepted the trophy from
Laver. "I had a wonderful tournament. A great end. Just because
there were no tears doesn't mean it doesn't mean anything to me."

Laver, the last man to win the Grand Slam -- all four majors in
one season -- made the trip from California to see Federer dismantle
Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in the semifinals.

He met with Federer in the locker room after the semifinal and
said he had little doubt the 25-year-old Swiss star could beat Pete
Sampras' record 14 Grand Slam singles titles, and just about every
other tennis record as well.

"The best way to beat him would be to hit him over the head
with a racket," Laver joked in a newspaper column.

Federer improved his streak to a career-best 36 wins, became the
first man in the Open era to twice win three straight majors and
has collected six of the last seven Grand Slam titles.

He tied Jack Crawford's 73-year-old record by reaching his
seventh consecutive final in majors.

"If somebody would have told me I'd win 10 Grand Slams from mid
'03 till today, I never would have thought there was any chance,"
he said.

"In the end I said, 'You know what, I've beaten [Gonzalez] nine times,
so just take it easy and play your game, and hopefully it is going
to work out. It did."
-- Roger Federer

Even before the tournament he had enough points to ensure he
will break Jimmy Connors' record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the
men's rankings by the end of next month.

Although he knows he's only one-quarter of the way there in
2007, a season Grand Slam is his objective. He was two sets from
that last year, when he won the first set of the French Open final
before losing in four to Rafael Nadal.

That was his only defeat in the last seven majors. Nadal was
26-0 on clay last season and is on a record 62-match streak on the
surface.

"French Open is obviously the next big one for me," he said.
"I've made one step further every year now. Went from semis to
finals. Got closer to Rafa, as well."

That and three other losses to Nadal were about the only
downsides of his 2006 season -- he was 91-1 against everyone else
and picked up 12 titles.

"I think it's going to be a very interesting French Open for me
... hopefully win the title," he said. "That will be a dream come
true. That's the only way I can make this season a better one than
last year. Otherwise it won't be possible."

Federer saw Gonzalez coming. The Chilean beat former No. 1
Lleyton Hewitt and Masters Cup finalist James Blake before pounding
Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

"I knew he was a dangerous player, and the way he's been going
through the draw made me wonder what did he do different this time
around," Federer said. "Especially the win against Nadal -- it
kind of shocked me. ... I didn't believe he was going to beat Rafa
so easy."

Then Gonzalez routed Haas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.

Federer considered changing strategy against Gonzalez.

"In the end I said, 'You know what, I've beaten him nine times,
so just take it easy and play your game, and hopefully it is going
to work out,"' Federer said. "It did."

Gonzalez had the most vocal cheering section Sunday, many with
painted faces chanting and blowing whistles and twirling flags as
if they were at a soccer game.

Federer, as usual, had thousands of backers, too. One fan,
dressed in Swiss red and white, carried a sign that summed up the
general feeling: "Federer is betterer." In the end, he was.

It was close in the beginning.

Gonzalez broke Federer in the ninth game and had set points at
5-4, but was unable to convert the opportunities. Both players
agreed that was the turning point.

"I have to congratulate again Roger," Gonzalez said. "He's on
the way to be maybe the best player ever. He is a great champion
who played a really good match today, all week -- almost all his
life. So I can take a lot out of this tournament."

Gonzalez was the biggest mover in the men's top 10, moving five
places to No. 5 with his run to his first Grand Slam final.

Serena Williams won her eighth and most improbable Grand Slam
title, beating top-seeded Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-2 on Saturday in
one of the most lopsided finals at the Australian Open. Sharapova
left for Tokyo on Sunday, knowing she would assume the No. 1
ranking the following day.

Williams, who played about half as many matches in two weeks at
Melbourne Park as she did in an injury-plagued 2006, stuck around
to watch the men's final. She will move from No. 81 to No. 14 and
has designs on getting back to No. 1.