NEW YORK (AP) – Roger Federer, a man of panache and unparalleled perfection in finals, withstood Andre Agassi’s spirited upset bid to capture a second straight U.S. Open and sixth Grand Slam title.
Federer responded to his few moments of pressure by reeling off seven straight points in the tiebreak that turned the match around, then blew Agassi away in the fourth set to win 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1 yesterday and run his stunning record in finals to 23-0.
Federer moved into a tie with Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker for Grand Slam titles among Open era players, and one behind John McEnroe and Mats Wilander. Pete Sampras holds the record with 14 Grand Slam titles, but at 24 years old, Federer could well have a shot at that.
Federer shrieked and leapt in the air when Agassi’s backhand return looped long on the championship point. The two men, who have the highest of respect for each other, shook hands warmly at the net.
Though the 35-year-old Agassi was the oldest U.S. Open men’s finalist in 31 years, age had less to do with the difference in this match than Federer’s sheer strength, variety of serves and superior balance of attacks from the baseline and the net that wore down Agassi.
The Swiss forced the action, going for winners more aggressively and dancing around the court with poise, unrattled even when Agassi had him down a break at 4-2 in the third set. For a while there, Agassi seemed to be on the verge of pulling one of the great upsets in sports history – on the order of Muhammad Ali’s shockers over Sonny Liston and George Foreman.
An 8-1 underdog, Agassi was just a few months removed from a career-threatening back injury that shot crippling pain down his right leg, led to his loss in the first round of the French Open and caused him to skip Wimbledon. He was playing a man who doesn’t lose in finals, is at the peak of his game and health, and is coming off his third straight Wimbledon championship.
If this was Agassi’s last U.S. Open after 20 straight – he won’t decide until the end of the year whether to retire – it was remarkable even in defeat.
“It’s been a tough road, but it’s been a great road,” Agassi told the cheering crowd. “Roger played way too good today. Congratulations Roger, well done.
“This certainly isn’t easy to do at any age, especially 35. It’s been a privilege to compete against so many great champions over the last couple of decades or so. Without exception, Roger has been one of most enjoyable to compete against. Thank you New York for the last 20 years. It’s been a great ride.”
Federer became the first man in the Open era, which started in 1968, to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open back-to-back for the second consecutive year. Three players have done it twice, though not in consecutive years: Jimmy Connors, McEnroe and Sampras. The last player to accomplish the feat was Don Budge in 1937-38.
Federer beat Agassi for the eighth straight time over the past two years after losing their first three meetings. Three of Federer’s victories in that streak have come at Grand Slam events, including the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last year and the Australian Open this year.
“This is probably the most special Grand Slam final in my career,” Federer said. “To play against Andre in New York, it’s a dream.
“I had to play my best match of the tournament. It happened I played my best in the finals, as usual. I don’t know how I do it, but it definitely feels great every single time.”