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Monday, September 10, 2007

The S
The New York Times

September 10, 2007

Federer Collects His 12th Grand Slam Title

Sweat dripped from Roger Federer’s black headband in the United States Open men’s final, as the endearing newcomer Novak Djokovic held seven set points over him like a mirror to his vulnerability.

Djokovic had been the comedian of the United States Open, a 20-year-old Serb who had won over the crowd with his postmatch impressions of fellow players as well as his gutsy baseline game.

Federer did not care for his act. And in the accelerated end, Djokovic, playing in his first Grand Slam final, was not yet ready for the inimitable Federer.

As the world’s No. 1 playing in his 14th Grand Slam final, Federer showed why he is the reigning impresario of tennis. He pounced on Djokovic’s mistakes yesterday, dissecting him for a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2), 6-4 triumph to collect his 12th Grand Slam title.

“He had his chances today, many of them,” Federer said. “You could sing a song about it. It’s a tough one for him to swallow, because especially him losing in the end straight sets, it’s tough.”

Those were the closing words of his news conference, perhaps fueling a compelling rivalry between the fashionable traditionalist, Federer, and the YouTube star, Djokovic.

Not that Federer, 26, was willing to admit it. He is chasing one man, Pete Sampras, the retired career leader with 14 Grand Slam titles.

With four consecutive Wimbledon titles and four consecutive United States Open championships, Federer has climbed closer. He is the first man in the open era to win four straight United States Open titles, the first since Bill Tilden won six straight national titles from 1920 to 1925.

Federer might have struggled briefly in the middle of the tournament — losing the first set to the 6-foot-9 John Isner in the third round and to Feliciano López in the fourth — but he crisply eliminated Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko and Djokovic in straight sets.

The young players motivate Federer, he said. “Seeing them challenge me, beating them in the final, it’s really for me the best feeling,” he said.

Djokovic, the No. 3 player in the world, made some notable friends and fans. Sitting in his box were the 2006 women’s champion, Maria Sharapova (“It’s just a friendship we have,” he said), and Robert De Niro, whose restaurant he ate in during the tournament.

Djokovic upset Federer in Montreal last month in a third-set tie breaker, and he came into yesterday’s final filled with confidence. He blamed himself as much as he complimented Federer.

“I think I was mentally weaker today on the important parts than he is mentally stronger,” Djokovic said.

He left war-torn Belgrade at 12 ½ years old, when his parents, owners of a pizza restaurant, sent him to train at Niki Pilic’s academy in Munich. Eight years later, the sacrifice paid off.

His mother, Dijana, wearing the Djokovic team uniform, was happy with her son’s performance here against Federer.

“Next year he will win for sure,” she said. “I know that he’s better.”

In the first set, Djokovic and Federer were feeling each other out from the baseline. Djokovic broke Federer’s serve, then served at 6-5 for the first set, at 40-love.

Federer erased all three set points. Djokovic earned and lost two more. On the third deuce, Djokovic hit a backhand that fluttered wide. Federer had his first break point; Djokovic double-faulted to send the set to a tie breaker.

When Djokovic netted a backhand to even the tie breaker at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the court. Djokovic double-faulted again, on set point for Federer.

In the 12th game of the second set, Djokovic had two more set points. Federer came back with an ace to erase the first. On the second, Djokovic’s forehand was called long and he challenged. The replay showed the ball had barely missed the baseline.

“It could have gone any way,” Djokovic said. “In these important moments, I was doing something wrong, and then I missed that shot and I was unlucky.”

Then he joked about his lost chances.

“My next book is going to be called ‘Seven Set Points,’ ” Djokovic said, deadpan. “No, I’m joking. I can say I’m sorry. I wish I can dress up and play those 40-love points again.

“I have to look in a positive way. This has been one of the most amazing experiences. This is one of the biggest cities in the world. The crowd — it was a great atmosphere. I am really glad with my success on and off the court.”

Federer, who scored an extraordinary five-set Wimbledon victory against No. 2 Rafael Nadal, said that championship would be his favorite.

“But New York has definitely grown on me the last few years,” he said.

He could not say the same for Djokovic. Federer said he still considered Nadal his true rival, even as Djokovic joined the conversation.

Federer was dismissive of Djokovic’s impressions of other players — Nadal, Roddick, Andre Agassi and even Federer.

“In the locker room he’s always very respectful toward me,” Federer said of Djokovic. “He’s pretty quiet. I didn’t see the stuff he did on court the other day. I didn’t see what apparently he did in the locker room either.

“I know some guys weren’t happy. I know some guys might think it’s funny. He’s walking a tightrope, for sure. If fans like it, it’s good for tennis, to be honest. It’s good to have a character like him out there, there’s no doubt.”

Federer left no doubt. For now.

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