Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Federer is frustrated again


First-round loss is third in last four years here for world No. 1

By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer

MASON - If Roger Federer were going to lose sometime this summer, perhaps it should not be shocking that it occurred here.

When the ATP's No. 1 player went down in three sets Tuesday to Dominik Hrbaty 1-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, Federer lost in the first round here for the third time in four years. His overall record at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters is 1-4, the only victory coming last year against Scott Draper, when Federer had to fight off seven match points to survive.

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This year, however, Federer came into town on an unprecedented run of individual success.

Nobody, not even No. 2-ranked Andy Roddick, who lost to Federer in the Wimbledon championship in July and the Tennis Masters Canada final Sunday, had slowed Federer.

But finally on Tuesday, a blend of Federer's fatigue and Hrbaty's resiliency ended Federer's match winning streak at 23 in a one-hour, 50-minute upset on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.

"There have always been reasons why I lost here," said Federer, who will leave Cincinnati several days early to prepare for the Athens Olympics. "But the conditions, you know, they are tricky here. The ball flies very much. It's very humid and hot. Now, it's obviously a little bit of a disappointment to leave so early. But it gives me a few more days and important days' rest, because I need them badly."

Federer had played the maximum number of matches in his previous four tournaments, winning each of them dating to the Gerry Weber Open, which began June 7 in Halle, Germany.

Then came Wimbledon, the Swiss Open and the Tennis Masters Canada last week. Federer won them all impressively, and tennis pundits have begun to wonder if one of the best players of all-time is beginning to blossom at age 22.

"Maybe it's one tournament too much for me, you know, to always keep winning," Federer said. "So, I'm not too disappointed. People shouldn't feel sorry for me, because I've had a great run."

He became the third No. 1 seed to lose in the first round of the W&S Masters and the first since John McEnroe lost in the first round in 1984, ending his own winning streak at 42 matches. Cliff Buchholz lost in the first round as the top seed in 1964.

Hrbaty won for the fourth straight time against a top-ranked opponent. He beat Marat Safin in 2001, Andre Agassi in 2000 and Yevgeny Kafelnikov in 1999. Hrbaty lost twice to No. 1-ranked Pete Sampras in 1998 and 1997. This was his second win in two matches against Federer, the first one coming in 2000.

Though Federer never had a match point Tuesday, he had his chances to put away Hrbaty in the second set but failed to break serve against the 21st-ranked Slovak. The match turned sharply on Hrbaty's second-set tiebreaker win after Federer needed just 21 minutes to take the first set.

"When I saved a couple break points in the second set, it started to turn around, and I started to play much better," Hrbaty said. "I think he had much more trouble with my slow second serve than my first serve."

Hrbaty actually won 67 percent of his second serve points compared to 56 percent of his first serve points in the second set. He won 75 percent of his second serve points in the third set.

"The second set, I was very disappointed with myself I couldn't play better on the big points," Federer said. "But it was just - I felt it, you know, the feel wasn't there. I tried to play around it, and I couldn't."

Federer's winning streak was the sixth-longest on the ATP Tour since 1990, and he hadn't lost in the first round of a tournament since the 2003 French Open.

"I think the more you win, the easier it gets when you lose," Federer said.

"Because you're not as excited when you win, but you're not as excited when you lose as well. For me, this loss is tough because I would like to play better in Cincinnati, but that's how it goes."

---

E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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