Federer uses varying methods to keep on winning

Updated: April 6, 2006, 2:33 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Roger Federer could only shrug happily Sunday when his backhand return of Ivan Ljubicic's 99-mile-per-hour second serve hit the net cord and trickled over on championship point at the Nasdaq-100 Open.

Roger Federer
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesIt wasn't the easiest of triumphs for Roger Federer, who won three tiebreaks in a single match for the first time.

The moment evoked memories of Michael Jordan's famous palms-up, can't-explain-it-myself gesture after hitting an unreasonable string of 3-pointers in an NBA playoff game a decade ago.

Some may perceive it as unfair that Federer's talent would be accompanied by the occasional serendipitous bounce. He found it completely logical that he got something as opposed to nothing but net.

"Guess I had to work extremely hard to get that lucky over the years," he quipped after his nearly three-hour, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6) victory over Ljubicic before a crowd of 14,024 at Crandon Park Tennis Center.

It was the first time the world No. 1 has won three tiebreaks in a single match.

"I guess I was just superior to him," Federer said later with his usual non-cocky assurance. "I thought it was a very evened-out match and it came down to the big points again."

The sixth-ranked Ljubicic forced Federer to toil more than usual for this title, his 37th since 2001. It was Federer's second win in a row at the Nasdaq-100, which is generally considered the most prestigious tournament after the four Grand Slam events, and has the biggest regular-season payday -- $533,000 -- for the winner.

I obviously prefer to dominate my opponents than having to fight for it. But as long as I keep on winning in the end, that's what I really care about, not how straightforward it was.
Roger Federer

"I obviously prefer to dominate my opponents than having to fight for it," Federer said. "But as long as I keep on winning in the end, that's what I really care about, not how straightforward it was."

Federer was outplayed here for most of the first three sets in last year's final by No. 2 Rafael Nadal of Spain, but mused that he would have to "go back a long way" to summon up the memory of the last time he felt outgunned for an entire match.

"I have hardly had any terrible matches in the last years," he said with exemplary understatement, and then delivered the punchline: "That's quite incredible for me, too, because I had such a problem being consistent."

Although Federer enjoys an easy stroll through the men's draw, he also recognizes the value of having to invest a little sweat equity.

"This is very nice to have such a close match and come through it and show once again that I really belong, you know, to the No. 1 position and deserve all these trophies I win," he said. "I can show in the most important moments, you know, how good I am.

"There's a big group of guys right behind me ... and I'm going to play them more often. Maybe one of these guys next to Rafael [Nadal] will challenge me in the future."

Ljubicic clearly belongs to that group this season. The loss to Federer was only his fourth against 25 wins and he brings more answers than most -- if not quite enough yet -- to Federer's in-your-face questions.

The Croatian star clobbered 21 aces and showed a repertoire almost as varied as Federer's maddening mix of line drives and junkballs. He broke back after Federer broke him midway through the second set, and led 4-1 in that tiebreak before Federer ran the table.

Federer seems always to pull the right tool out of his bag to close out a tiebreak, whether it's a hammer, an ice pick or a feather duster. He nailed down the first set point with a 121-mph ace and the second by driving Ljubicic irrecoverably deep into his forehand corner. The dribbler on match point made Federer 12-1 in tiebreaks this season and 10-2 in tiebreaks against Ljubicic.

Like the kid who trips over the final word in a spelling bee, only to see his unassuming classmate calmly lick his lips and enunciate it perfectly, Ljubicic could only assign credit.

"He is the guy who, as I said, is coming up with some solutions that you don't usually see on a court," he said.

Federer will now set sail for the clay-court season in hopes of winning the French Open, the only Grand Slam event that has eluded him.

Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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