Faultless Federer is out on his own
At the age of only 23, Roger Federer is already being hailed as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
His all-court game has left even his closest rivals trailing in his wake and wondering when, if ever, the Swiss star will wane.
Federer was without a coach throughout 2004, after parting company with Peter Lundgren in December 2003.
But as a new season got underway in Doha, Qatar, the Swiss revealed that he had engaged the services of Australian Tony Roche as his new part-time coach.
Roche, who coached Ivan Lendl and Pat Rafter to the world number one spot and several grand slam titles, will team up with Federer for around ten weeks in 2005.
Federer said the deal with Roche, which is initially for one year, was a relief.
"It's good to know that there will be help there because I need someone to analyse and help improve my game," he said.
With or without a coach, Federer's results speak for themselves.
But it is his shot-making genius that really separates the champion from the rest of the field.
Last year Federer simply crushed all opposition worthy of the name, humbling players of the calibre of Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi among others.
Federer finished the season with 18 wins and no defeats against players ranked in the top ten.
After proving in 2003 that he could become a real force in the game, the Swiss showed last year that he had the tools to become one of the all-time greats, if not the greatest.
He suffered only six defeats in 80 matches and notched up 11 tournaments including three grand slam titles (Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open) and the end-of-season Masters Cup.
His victories at Wimbledon, Gstaad and Toronto matched Bjorn Borg’s 1979 achievement in winning consecutive trophies on grass, clay and hard courts.
“I will have trouble repeating such a year,” admitted Federer.
Unfortunately for his rivals, the Basel-born player looks more than capable of a repeat performance.
“Federer can do anything. He is even capable of winning on water,” commented Ilie Nastase, the former Romanian world number one.
Each success has seen more praise heaped on the young Swiss.
After his triumph at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Pete Sampras, the champion to whom the Swiss is most often compared, said Federer was “dominating the circuit like no one ever before”.
“He can play at the highest level without using up too much energy. He doesn’t have any weak points. If he continues like this, he will be unbeatable,” added Sampras.
Federer lost only one set in the Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick, and a few weeks later crushed Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt at the US Open 6-0, 7-6, 6-0.
Hewitt was also on the receiving end at the Masters Cup and admitted that the Swiss was playing in a different league.
“I’d like to congratulate Roger not only for winning the tournament but for the way he has played this year,” said the Australian, after losing to Federer for the sixth time in a row.
“He has really cleaned me up this year. I’ll go back to the drawing board and hopefully I can get him next year.”
Fortunately for his rivals, the Swiss is not unbeatable. The one blip in a near-faultless year – losing to three-times French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten at Roland Garros hardly constitutes a crime – came at the Olympics in Athens.
The warning signs that the “Fed express” was heading for a minor derailment had been evident ahead of the Games when he was knocked out of the Cincinnati Masters in the first round.
Two weeks later, after struggling through the first round in Athens, his dream of Olympic gold disappeared against the unheralded Czech, Tomas Berdych.
“It is my main disappointment,” admitted Federer.
But any thoughts that Federer had ground to a halt were swiftly dispelled a fortnight later when he swept to the US Open title.
Further victories came in Bangkok and at the Masters Cup, where he dropped just one set.
“Early in my career I struggled with consistency, but I couldn’t get more consistent than this year,” he said after winning in Houston.
“I’ve really proved that on all surfaces, everywhere in the world, I can win the title.”
swissinfo, Jonathan Hirsch
Federer was born in Basel in August 1981.
He has been ranked world number one since February last year.
He won 11 titles last year, including three grand slams.
In 2004 he won $6,357,547 (SFr7,261,590) in prize money.
Federer is unbeaten in his last 13 finals going back to Vienna in October 2003.
He is the first player since Sweden’s Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three grand slam titles in the same year.
Last year he became the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1979 to win consecutive tournaments on grass, clay and hard courts.
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