Federer's the best right now

Updated: March 26, 2004, 12:22 AM ET
By Cynthia Faulkner | ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- In a rain-filled day at the NASDAQ-100 Open, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin all discussed the one man who just keeps beating them: Roger Federer.

"He's definitely established himself as the best player in the world right now," Roddick said Thursday. "There's not a whole lot of doubt about that. He's just lifted his game to another level. He's playing great ball right now."

The No. 1 player in the world, Federer is 22-1 this year. He won his second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, and the year's first Tennis Masters Series title last week at Indian Wells. Only eight men have ever won back-to-back Tennis Masters Series titles, among them are Roddick and Andre Agassi, twice.

Agassi, who lost to Federer 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 at Indian Wells, agreed that Federer deserves to be on top right now. Agassi also attributed his loss in part to small things in his game.

"For me, it's a bit of a Catch-22 because I need to make sure I don't play too much," Agassi said. "So I stay fresh physically and mentally, but then you get into the close matches with the best players and that might be the difference in the match, that you haven't quite played as many matches."

Safin also thinks the little things make a difference.

"It's like lottery," said Safin, who lost the Australian Open final to Federer 7-6(3) 6-4 6-2. "The score 7-6, 7-6 could go any way.

"So, unfortunately, didn't go my way. But there is always another chance."

Although the only way any of them can meet Federer, who plays his first match on Friday, is to reach the final here, they are all looking for a weakness.

"His backhand is still not the same shot that his forehand is," Agassi said. "I wouldn't by any means call it a weakness. Sometimes you're just forced to choose your poison. Great players make you do that."

Roddick said that's just part of the game.

"As both of us improve and maybe cover weaknesses or cover gaps and change out games, there's always that kind of adjustment that has to be made," he said.

"If you play too far back in the court," Agassi said, "he can come forward and then he can keep you from doing it. If you play up, but you just kind of move the ball around, he moves too quick. You need the strength to make him beat you with the worst shot."

At the Pacific Life Open, Federer said confidence plays a lot into his success.

"I think the more confident you are, the more risk you can take," Federer said. "The harder you hit the ball, the more you think you're stronger than you maybe actually are. But I still believe it's (better) to stay realistic and know what you can do."

"I'm definitely always looking, watching his matches," Roddick said, "trying to find out different ways where if I do get to play him next time, what I might do or could do differently. I'm sure he's doing the same thing."

When asked if he'd found anything yet, Roddick smiled.

"No, he's being really annoying by covering up all his holes right now."

Agassi said that Federer's game means opponents have to find a way to beat him mentally.

"That's the part of tennis that's like chess," Agassi said. "Everybody has their weaknesses, and how they get around it is what separates a lot of them."

"No one's ever unbeatable," said Roddick, whose record against Federer is 5-1. "I can quasi-relate to the way he's playing because last summer I played pretty well.

"So the rest of us need to get our butts in gear and try to make the gap a little smaller."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.

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