Federer wins three tiebreakers to capture Nasdaq title

Updated: April 2, 2006, 7:51 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Federer By The Numbers
Since August 2004 (Playing in U.S.)
Tournaments entered 7
Tournament titles 7
Winning streak 48 matches

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."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press