Federer remains a factor

Ex-champ hungry as US Open begins

Roger Federer’s 16 Grand Slam titles include five consecutive US Open crowns. Roger Federer’s 16 Grand Slam titles include five consecutive US Open crowns. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / August 29, 2011

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NEW YORK - First came the end of Roger Federer’s remarkable run of reaching a record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals.

Then he failed to make it to a major semifinal after a record 23 in a row.

The US Open marks Federer’s last chance to prevent the close of another streak: In each season from 2003-10, he won at least one Grand Slam title - and sometimes as many as three. He’s 0 for 2011 heading into the year’s last major tournament, where play is scheduled to begin this morning, after what the US Tennis Association said was “minimal damage’’ to the site over the weekend from Tropical Storm Irene.

This US Open also is Federer’s first major tournament since he turned 30 on Aug. 8. That age tends to represent a barrier to success in tennis: Of the last 100 Grand Slam titles, only five were won by a man past his 30th birthday. The last to do it was Andre Agassi at the 2003 Australian Open.

Federer, though, said that his age hasn’t affected his expectations.

“Hasn’t changed anything. I’m still as professional. I’m still as hungry. Everything’s still completely normal,’’ he explained. “It’s just a number that’s changed. I’m ready to go.’’

His résumé is filled with some rather impressive numbers, including 16 Grand Slam titles and five consecutive US Open championships from 2004-08, before his 40-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows ended in the 2009 final against Juan Martin del Potro. Last year, Federer lost in the semifinals to Novak Djokovic.

For his career, Federer is 223-33 in Grand Slam matches, an .871 winning percentage. Today, he can tie Agassi for the second-most victories at majors - Jimmy Connors retired with 233 - by beating 54th-ranked Santiago Giraldo of Colombia.

They’re slated to play their first-round match in Arthur Ashe Stadium at night, after seven-time major champion Venus Williams meets Vesna Dolonts of Russia.

Other matches on the Day 1 schedule include 2006 US Open champion Maria Sharapova against Heather Watson of Britain; reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova against Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania; 2010 US Open runner-up Vera Zvonareva against Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France; 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison against No. 27-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia; and No. 8 Mardy Fish - the highest-seeded American in New York for the first time - against Tobias Kamke of Germany.

For the first time since the 2004 Australian Open, neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal is seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam.

Instead, that honor went to Djokovic, who is producing one of the greatest seasons in tennis history. He’s 57-2 with nine titles, including at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. He’s also 5-0 against Nadal, with all of those matchups coming in tournament finals: two on hard courts, two on clay, and one on grass at the All England Club last month.

“The record speaks for itself,’’ Federer said. “It’s been an amazing run.’’

With two-time US Open runner-up Djokovic at No. 1, and defending champion Nadal at No. 2, Federer is seeded No. 3, his lowest spot in New York since he was 13th in 2002.

Even though Federer only has one title this season, his lowest total in a decade, and he’s gone the past six major tournaments without a championship, he’s still is capable of producing masterful tennis, such as when he ended Djokovic’s 43-match winning streak by beating him in the French Open semifinals.

That’s why seven-time major champion John McEnroe doesn’t discount Federer’s chances of collecting a 17th Grand Slam.

“This guy is arguably the greatest of all time,’’ McEnroe said. “He’s still playing some great tennis.’’

Federer takes inspiration from past players who played well in their 30s, such as Ken Rosewall, Connors, and Agassi, who was 35 when he lost to the Swiss star in the 2005 US Open final, a year before retiring.

“I feel my game allows me to still play for many more years, because I have a relaxing playing style. I have almost played 1,000 matches on tour and that leaves its toll, but I’m very professional when it comes to massages, stretching, diet, sleep, all of that stuff,’’ Federer said. “So I have always looked in the long term . . . That’s why I’m confident I can still play for many more years to come at the highest of levels.’’