The legend grows. By defeating 10th seeded Fernando González of Chile in straight sets to claim a third Australian Open on Sunday, world number one Roger Federer took another step towards immortality.
This 7-6 6-4 6-4 victory, completed in 140 clinical minutes in the chill of a Melbourne evening, brings his collection of major titles to 10. Only Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg on 11, Roy Emerson on 12 and Pete Sampras on 14 have won more and it seems inevitable that, barring injury, Federer will overtake them all.
The Swiss superstar has now won three of the Grand Slam tournaments at least three times each, something that no one, not even those illustrious predecessors, has achieved. Inevitably there will now be speculation about a full Grand Slam this year. Even Federer admits it might happen. “Last year for the first time I thought it could be a possibility,” he said. “I’m improving every year,” he added ominously.
In Paris Rafael Nadal prevented it but there are signs the Spaniard is struggling to find consistency. His loss here to González in straight sets, following a scare against Andy Murray, suggests the strain of his very physical game is taking its toll.
Federer, by contrast, plays with the precision of a Swiss watch. Against González there was a moment when he had to stave off the two set points held by the Chilean when serving at 5-4, 40-15 in the first set. On the first Federer raced to the net to put away a forehand volley. Another advance to the net on the second saw González net his attempted pass.
Until that moment the 26-year-old Chilean, playing in his first Grand Slam final, seemed to have forgotten that all nine of his previous meetings against Federer had ended in defeat. He looked as confident as he had done in beating Tommy Haas so convincingly in Friday’s semi-final when he had committed only three unforced errors.
Yet once the tie-break had been lost 7-2, belief suddenly died. González was like a drowning man struggling to stay afloat. A break in the seventh game of the second set was all Federer needed to take it in the 10th game. It was the same in the third. In a long seventh game, González saved three break points but on the fourth Federer forced his way in and buried a forehand volley. Three games later it was all over. The last shot, a majestic backhand down the line, passed González on the baseline and the Chilean sank without trace.
Not since Ken Rosewall’s win in 1971 has anyone won these Championships without losing a set. Borg was the last man to do it in a major – in Paris in 1980. This latest victory extends Federer’s present winning streak to 36 matches, a career best. In his present mood it is difficult to see when the streak will end.
■CRICKET Michael Vaughan has been left in a Catch-22 scenario ahead of Tuesday’s match with New Zealand in Perth.
The captain was due to return for England’s final three group matches of the Commonwealth Bank Series but a tweak of his injured left hamstring a fortnight ago has jeopardised things.
On the one hand he is desperate to galvanise his team’s floundering campaign, after missing three consecutive defeats, but on the other a premature comeback, and a worsening of the injury, may affect his participation at the World Cup.
Meanwhile, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting made centuries and shared a 200-run second-wicket partnership as Australia scraped in an eight-run win over New Zealand in Perth on Sunday. The Black Caps, though, remain a point ahead of England on the tri-series table.