FedEx back in the groove

HAMBURG: With perfect Swiss timing, Roger Federer reasserted his authority in men’s tennis by winning the Hamburg Masters. 

The 23-year-old arrived in northern Germany a worried man two weeks before the start of the French Open, the only grand slam event he has never won and where he has lost in the first round in two of the last three years. 

A nagging foot problem had forced him to miss the Rome Masters, denying him the chance to make amends for his shock quarter-final exit at the Monte Carlo Masters in April. 

In his absence, Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal and Argentine Guillermo Coria played out one of the great tennis finals in Rome, a record five-and-a-quarter hour epic won by Nadal that suggested they would be the players to beat in Paris. 

WHAT A RELIEF: Amelie Mauresmo kisses the clay after beating Swiss Patty Schnyder in the women's singles final of the Rome Masters tennis tournament on Sunday.

In just a week in Hamburg, however, Federer reminded everybody, including himself, that no-one has a better case for victory at Roland Garros. 

Federer won the Hamburg event for the third time in four years with almost embarrassing ease. On a surface said to be his weakest he did not drop a single set and he barely even broke sweat. 

“The toughest moment was when I looked at the draw,” admitted the Swiss. “I was really worried. There were many tough opponents in my section so in the end to come through without losing a set is very nice.” 

Federer showed Coria who was boss in their quarter-final and also took the opportunity to punish the two teenage upstarts who have beaten him in the last nine months. 

In the second round, he thrashed Czech Tomas Berdych, the 19-year-old who knocked him out of the Athens Olympics last August, 6-2, 6-1.  

Sunday’s 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 win over France’s Richard Gasquet in the final avenged his defeat by the 18-year-old in Monte Carlo last month. 

To a perfectionist like Federer, the odd loss really matters. Asked what his highlight of the week was, he replied: “Berdych, that was nice to get him back. Beating Coria was good but he had a five-setter in Rome and I think he was tired.  

“I haven’t lost to too many guys and you always want to beat the guys who beat you.” 

The statistics Federer carries to Roland Garros are astonishing. Sunday’s win over Gasquet stretched his professional era record of consecutive victories in ATP finals to 19.        

He has a 41-2 win-loss ratio this year, and a phenomenal 57-2 record dating back to the start of last year’s US Open. 

Sunday’s triumph brought his sixth title of the year and his third Masters crown in 2005 after back-to-back wins in Indian Wells and Miami. He is top of the ATP entry rankings, and the Masters Series rankings, by a country mile. 

Any of his French Open rivals hoping that is a recipe for complacency, however, can forget it. 

“I have a good feeling but good feelings don’t matter much once the tournament starts,” he said. “It’s the real deal over five sets for two weeks and I cannot think about aiming for the title. The last two years have been disappointing for me at the French so I just have to focus on the early rounds. Once I get going, that’s when I will start to become really dangerous at Roland Garros.” – Reuters 

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