Federer quickest qualifier for Tennis Masters Cup


CINCINNATI -- Top-ranked Roger Federer lost for the first time in 24 matches when he was beaten
by Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the first round of
the Cincinnati Masters on Tuesday.

Had he won, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, who
beat Andy Roddick to win the Toronto Masters on Sunday, would
have equaled the 24-match winning streak set by Pete Sampras in

Hrbaty is ranked 21st in the world and has won three ATP
titles this year.

"You have to do everything to be ready [for tournaments]," a
weary Federer said. "It's obviously difficult to bounce back
from victories. It may have been one tournament too much for me to keep
winning, so I can't be too disappointed.

"I have had a great run, and I have a few more days off, and
that's the positive side to it."

Notwithstanding the loss, on Tuesday Federer became the quickest qualifier ever for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup, an eight-player event Nov. 13-21 in Houston.

The 22-year-old has had runaway success in 2004. He is 57-5 this year, with a tour-high eight titles, including two majors and three ATP Masters Series titles.

"I'm very happy to qualify for the Tennis Masters Cup for the
third time in succession," Federer said. "I always play
well at the Tennis Masters Cup, and last year's title was one of
the best tournament wins of my career."

The two-time Wimbledon champion has been No. 1 since February,
when he overtook Roddick in the entry rankings.

Roddick won his opener Tuesday night, rallying to defeat Max Mirnyi 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 6-3.

"We all marvel at Federer's remarkable form that has resulted
in this unprecedented early qualification," ATP CEO Mark Miles
said. "Tennis fans throughout the world not only are thoroughly
enjoying watching Roger's style and superb level of play, but they
also are witnessing the emergence of one of the greatest champions
in tennis' history."

The loss Tuesday was Federer's first defeat since losing in the third
round of the French Open at the end of May and came only two
days after he repeated his Wimbledon final victory over world
No. 2 Roddick with a spectacular performance in Toronto.

Then, as now, the Swiss warned he was exhausted,
which may explain why, after dominating the first set, he failed
to capitalize on several good chances in the second, missing
break points in the third and fifth games.

Federer then played an uneven tiebreak, following
great shots with indifferent ones to lose 9-7 after overhitting
a backhand drive.

In the third set, the Swiss had little difficulty holding
serve until the ninth game, when he again lapsed, conceding the
game with a forehand drive struck uncharacteristically wide.

"It was a pity I couldn't win in two sets," Federer said. "I
had chances definitely in the second set. I thought I played really well for one and a half sets and missed opportunities in the second set and he made me pay.

"At the start he was giving me quite a few points and missing
shots, but in the second and third he wasn't and played really

Hrbaty took his chances well, both in the
tiebreak and while serving out for the match without fuss, but
the impression persisted that the real winner here was Federer's

The early exit will allow him more preparation time for the
Olympic Games in Athens starting Aug. 13.

It also made defending champion Roddick the favorite to win the
Cincinnati title again, though he came perilously close to a
first-round defeat before overcoming Mirnyi of Belarus.

The American was a set down and trailed 5-4 in the second
set tiebreaker with two Mirnyi serves to come.

However, just when Roddick seemed out of it, he produced a
pair of great returns of serve to turn the tiebreak back in his

"He definitely could have closed me out, and at that point I
felt I definitely deserved to lose," admitted the champion, who
found the conditions much quicker than those in Toronto.

But Roddick appeared to want to avoid defeat more than
Federer did.

Often he fretted and fumed, once he whacked himself on the
head with his racket, and on another occasion knocked over a
television microphone at the back of the court.

His desire to succeed may have been crucial in helping him
survive for a third meeting with Germany's Nicolas Kiefer in as
many weeks.