Federer wins battle for Indian Wells crown

Updated: March 20, 2005, 7:58 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Roger Federer is all alone at the top -- by several notches.

The world's top-ranked player, looking virtually unstoppable these days, rolled to a straight-sets victory over Lleyton Hewitt on Sunday to successfully defend his Pacific Life Open title.

Roger Federer
APRoger Federer has now won 17 consecutive finals.

Federer broke the second-ranked Australian's serve in the opening game and was in control the rest of the way in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

Federer is on a roll that has carried him to 42 wins in his past 43 matches, and seven victories in eight tournaments. He has another streak going in finals, where he's won 17 in a row.

"It's always been my dream to be the best. Now I am and I am enjoying it," Federer, a 23-year-old from Switzerland, said. "The more victories you get, the better you feel."

Although Hewitt was slowed by sore toes, he gave Federer credit for playing a great match.

"That's sort of the standard that he's put himself in week in and week out," Hewitt said. "It's not like he's doing something freaky, out of the blue.

"If you want to be the best player in the world, you've got to look at where the benchmark is. And he's set it pretty high."

Hitting powerful, accurate groundstrokes that kept his Australian opponent scrambling back and forth at the baseline, Federer mixed in winning volleys, drop shots and the occasional overhead.

Hewitt said both his big toes began hurting the previous night, when he beat Andy Roddick in a grueling semifinal that went three sets and three tiebreakers.

"I probably wouldn't have won anyway," Hewitt said of the final. "But I wasn't moving 100 percent."

Federer picked up on that.

"I see very quickly when my opponent has got some sort of a problem," he said. "It definitely changed my setup against him."

Federer said Hewitt normally would prefer to get him into long rallies but instead he often went for quick winners this time.

"I got that feeling very quickly, and I just had to really focus on my serve," Federer said.

There still was one memorable, 45-shot rally, when Federer was holding break point in the second game of the second set.

Toward the end of the rally, Federer chased down a shot near the net, sprinted back and across the court to return a lob, came up again to hit another shot, then scurried back once again to flick the ball over his shoulder to return another lob.

Hewitt then hit a drop shot just over the net far to Federer's right. It looked to be a winner, but Federer raced forward, stretched as far as he could and hit the ball back. Hewitt went sprawling to his right and volleyed for a winner -- finally.

Both players were out of breath, but smiled broadly. The crowd roared its approval, then gave the players a standing ovation.

Federer said it was "an unbelievable point."

"One of my best in my life," he said. "During a final against Lleyton, that was fantastic, and that it didn't finish in an error. We were both tired after that rally."

Both he and Hewitt were impressed by the standing ovation, saying it was very unusual for a single point in the middle of a game.

"Maybe after you win a Davis Cup final or something, in five sets," said Hewitt, who went on to win that game. "But not normally after a point, especially when neither of you is from America."

Federer ended the match with his 15th ace -- to Hewitt's four -- and raised his arms high and beamed. He hit the ball into the cheering crowd, with his usual one-handed backhand.

Federer's title was his fourth of the year. He extended his winning streak over Hewitt to seven in a row, including last year's U.S. Open final.

His only loss since he began that tournament was by Marat Safin in this year's Australian Open semifinals. Safin then beat Hewitt in the final.

The 24-year-old Hewitt, who held the No. 1 ranking in 2002 and 2003, lost for just the third time in 21 matches this year.

The men's final was changed to a best-of-five sets format this year, and Federer still needed just an hour and 52 minutes to finish it. A year ago, the best-of-three final lasted only 65 minutes -- Federer beat Tim Henman 6-3, 6-3.

Kim Clijsters beat Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 for the women's title at Indian Wells on Saturday.