Federer hard to beat in North America

Roger Federer won his 11th Masters Series title at the Rogers Cup on Sunday. He's now six shy of record holder Andre Agassi, who has played his final Masters Series event.

Updated: August 15, 2006, 9:12 AM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

Roger Federer's 2006 season is starting to look like a Hit Rewind of last year, with a few small exceptions.

Federer's victory in Toronto last weekend made him 62-4 on the season, compared to 81-4 in 2005. All four of his losses this year have come to No. 2 Rafael Nadal. Last year he spread the wealth around, losing to four different players -- including Richard Gasquet of France, his finals opponent in Toronto, who won the first set convincingly but eventually became just another victim.

Roger Federer
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesRoger Federer still has yet to lose to anyone not named Nadal in 2006.
The Swiss No. 1 looks like quite the monopoly right now. He has 54 consecutive wins on North American hard courts, where he once floundered. He sits atop the U.S. Open Series standings and is in line for a $1 million bonus if he maintains that lead and wins his third straight Open.

No. 2 Kim Clijsters pulled off that feat last year, doubling her Open prize money and converting $1.1 million to $2.2 million under the 2005 rules. Right now she's just behind Maria Sharapova in the series table, but that list should shift significantly with Sharapova's withdrawal from this week's Montreal event due to fatigue.

Toronto added another stat to Federer's already-numbing collection: He's now tied with Pete Sampras for second place in career Masters Series victories. Each has 11 wins in the series of big-money tournaments scattered throughout the ATP calendar. The Masters Series continues this week in Cincinnati, where the top seven players in the rankings were in the draw (fifth seed Nikolay Davydenko lost in the first round).

Over and out
Meanwhile, the man who has won more Masters "shields" than anyone else -- Andre Agassi, with 17 -- pulled out of his second straight tournament and brought his Masters Series career to a quiet end. Agassi won his last Masters title in Cincinnati two years ago and was a three-time champion there.

Agassi is 4-4 since his return from a three-month midseason hiatus, when he tried to rehab a chronic back injury, and lost in the second round at Washington in his last action. He is not entered in next week's Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Conn., and is unlikely to take a wild card.

At No. 37 this week, it now looks as if Agassi will be unseeded at the U.S. Open. His fragile competitive health once again raises the question of how deep he'll be able to go in his much-anticipated final tournament.

Sampras earned a champion's ideal farewell four years ago, winning the Open final against Agassi, his greatest rival. It was a uniquely dramatic exit. Most great players leave the court with a standing ovation and an early loss.

Other than Sampras, all of Agassi's contemporaries in the so-called Fab Five made anticlimactic bows. Michael Chang and Todd Martin both played their last official matches at the U.S. Open, departing in the first round in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Jim Courier also fell in the first round of his final U.S. Open in 1999, was ousted in the first round of the Australian Open the following January, and hung up his ATP sneakers after falling to Thomas Enqvist in the second round in Miami that March.

Some other legendary players didn't fare much better.

Bjorn Borg ended his glorious Grand Slam career with a finals loss to John McEnroe in the 1981 U.S. Open after beating Roscoe Tanner and Jimmy Connors en route, but didn't put down his racket for good until 1984, after a first-round defeat to Henri Leconte in Stuttgart.

Connors lost to Ivan Lendl in the second round of the '92 U.S. Open, a four-setter that concluded with a love set. That would be his last Slam; his final official match was a loss to Richey Reneberg in Atlanta four years later.

McEnroe's U.S. Open finale in 1992 was a three-set loss -- the last a tiebreak -- to then-No. 1 Courier in the round of 16, but the last match on his record is a first-round tumble to Magnus Gustafsson in Rotterdam in 1994.

Sampras hadn't decided whether he'd retire when he walked off the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium that September evening in 2002. Many players don't know when they've played their last match -- or they change their minds, as Boris Becker did after famously confiding in Sampras as they shook hands at the net after Sampras beat him in the 1997 Wimbledon quarterfinals.

Becker shocked Sampras by saying he'd played his last Slam, but returned to Wimbledon two years later and played his final match against Patrick Rafter in the round of 16, double-faulting 13 times.

The lesson in all this? Chances are that Agassi's curtain call will be emotional, but it's probably foolish to expect that it will somehow encapsulate his career. Then again, he's surprised us before.

Missed it by that much
Lindsay Davenport's second-round exit in Los Angeles left an already-frayed streak dangling by a thread. Had No. 11 Anastasia Myskina of Russia beaten China's Zheng Jie in the final in Stockholm, she would have bumped Davenport out of the No. 10 ranking. Since the modern ranking system was instituted 31 years ago, the WTA top 10 has never been without a U.S. player. Zheng defeated Myskina to keep the American record intact, but it's likely to fall this week as Davenport is idle while Myskina is the sixth seed (and virtual fifth, since Sharapova's withdrawal) at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. A mere 13 ranking points separate the two. … Davenport's three-set loss to Australia's Samantha Stosur was her first match back after a four-plus-month layoff due to back problems.

Hard to stomach
An apparent case of food poisoning foiled Jesse Levine's bid to unseat defending U.S. junior champion Donald Young at the national final in Kalamazoo, Mich., Sunday. The second-seeded Levine, an 18-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., became ill overnight and received intravenous fluids at his hotel but was unable to play. Young, 17, who also won the junior doubles title with partner Alex Clayton, will receive his second consecutive wild-card invitation to the U.S. Open and will seek his first pro victory after nine losses. The Atlanta resident is currently ranked No. 5 in the world junior standings and could repeat as year-end No. 1.

Boys' 16-and-under champion Brennan Boyajian also battled nausea during his final against Ryan Thatcher and had to save three match points en route to his eventual victory.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.