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Federer wins three tiebreakers to capture Nasdaq title

4/2/2006 - Tennis

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Eager to punctuate his afternoon with
an exclamation point, Roger Federer pounced on a second serve,
whacking a backhand return that kissed the tape and landed softly
at the base of net on the far side of the court.

With that, Federer won the Nasdaq-100 Open.

"I guess I had to work extremely hard to get that lucky over
the years," he said. "Obviously it's funny when it happens on
match point for a tournament victory."

Federer was a little lucky when it counted most Sunday, but he
was also very good. He came from behind in three consecutive
tiebreakers to claim the Key Biscayne title for the second year in
a row, beating Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6).

"The bigger points, he played better," Ljubicic said. "He
played more relaxed and more confident than I was. When you play a
tiebreaker against him, he rarely misses."

The top-ranked Federer won three tiebreakers in a match for the
first time to remain unbeaten since August 2004 in the United
States, where he has won 48 consecutive matches and the past seven
tournaments he has entered.

Federer improved to 28-1 overall this year, with the only loss
to Rafael Nadal in Dubai.

"This is very nice, to have such a close match and come through
it and show once again that I really belong to the No. 1 position
and deserve all these trophies I win," Federer said.

Ljubicic, seeded sixth, settled for runner-up despite losing
only 12 points on his first serve. He hit 21 aces, and during one
stretch won 13 service points in a row.

But Federer won the pivotal points, such as when he faced set
point in the final tiebreaker at 5-6. He hit a pair of service
winners, then spun his final shot off the net cord. Federer walked
to the net with a sheepish grin.

"Just another way to win a point," Ljubicic said, "so he did
it."

Federer became the first man to win titles at Indian Wells and
Key Biscayne back-to-back in consecutive years.

"I never thought I would do it again," he said. "I was
extremely happy with the way I played. The first set gave me a
little cushion, and Ivan was always running uphill."

Federer extended his record winning streak in the ATP Masters
Series to 24 matches, and won his ninth Masters Series final in a
row. Even against top players, Federer is remarkably dominant: He
beat Ljubicic for the seventh straight time.

But the match was his toughest of the tournament, and the narrow
margin made him a little testy. He yelled at himself and argued at
length with a lineswoman about a call. When he challenged a ruling
on his serve and lost, he appeared rattled and double-faulted on
his next shot.

In his four matches on the stadium court, Federer was successful
on only one of five instant-replay challenges. Overall, players
overturned 53 of 161 rulings challenged (33 percent).

Federer has been one of the few players reluctant to embrace the
technology, used by the professional tours for the first time at
Key Biscayne.

"I still believe you have to give it time and see if it's
really reliable," he said. "I'm happy it's in the past right
now."

The first set alone took 59 minutes, the length of Federer's
semifinal victory over David Ferrer, and he played for 80 minutes
before earning a break-point chance against Ljubicic. The players
then traded back-to-back breaks -- the first of the match -- for
4-all in the second set.

But in the tiebreakers, Federer was slightly better. He hit an
ace to close out the first one, and won the final six points in the
second tiebreaker.

In the third set, he rallied after losing his serve in the first
game, breaking back for 3-all. He held serve to reach 6-6, then
improved to 12-1 in tiebreakers this year.

"I never panic," Federer said. "I think that's the key in the
end. You've got to believe in your game."

Federer received $533,350 for his fourth title this year.
Ljubicic, a finalist in a U.S. event for the first time, earned
$266,675.

"For 10 seconds after the match, you're mad because you were
close," Ljubicic said. "But a week after, you're proud. I'm going
to be proud of the way I played and the fact that I was close."