Sunday, November 20, 2005

[Tennis] Nalbandián is a MASTER

Argentinean player David Nalbandián beat Roger Federer 6-7 6-7 6-2 6-1 7-6 in 4 and half hours and became the champion at the Master Series at Shangai


Roger Federer's record-chasing run ended with a jolt Sunday, a five-set loss to David Nalbandian in the Tennis Masters Cup final.

Nalbandian, who made the elite eight-man field because of injuries to top players, ended Federer's 35-match winning streak by rallying from two sets down for a 6-7 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (3) victory. Federer had won his previous 24 finals and lost for only the fourth time this year.

"Roger, don't worry, it's not your last final," Nalbandian joked. "You're going to win a lot of tournaments, so let me keep this one."

Federer, bidding for a third straight Masters Cup title, entered the tournament after a six-week layoff because of an injured right ankle.

The top-seeded Swiss finished one victory short of John McEnroe's Open era record (82-3) for best winning percentage in a season, ending 2005 at 81-4.

"It's been a fantastic year ... unfortunately I couldn't win the last one, but this year will be a great memory for me," Federer said. "To be back after the injury _ I'm happy I made it so far. I'm proud of that."

He rallied from 0-4 in the deciding set and was two points from victory, serving at 6-5 and 30-0, before Nalbandian broke back to force a tiebreaker. Nalbandian earned three championship points when Federer sent a backhand into the net.

The eighth-seeded Argentine clinched the 4 1/2-hour match when Federer netted a forehand. He dropped to his back, almost in disbelief. Federer walked off court and slumped into a chair.

"We played an incredible match," said Nalbandian, who earned $1.4 million in prize money and will move from No. 12 to No. 6 in the ATP rankings.

Nalbandian has never won a Grand Slam singles title and was appearing at the Masters Cup for only the second time. He became the first Argentine to win the year-ending championship since Guillermo Vilas' title in 1974 at Melbourne.

Federer had only once lost a best-of-five set match after leading 2-0 _ to Lleyton Hewitt in the 2003 Davis Cup semifinal.

He said he felt pressure to perform in Shanghai after No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 5 Andre Agassi withdrew with injuries last Monday, joining No. 3 Andy Roddick, No. 4 Hewitt and Australian Open winner Marat Safin on the sidelines.

Nalbandian made Federer run to the net, using slice backhands and drop shots, then whipped winners past him. Federer needed treatment on his left thigh after the fifth game of the fourth set, telling the trainer he was almost exhausted.

The final was the only scheduled best-of-five set match in the tournament. Federer had dropped a set in each of his three round-robin wins, then had a 6-0, 6-0 semifinal win over Gaston Gaudio on Saturday night _ the first "double-bagel" in his career. It was also the first love-love result at the year-ending tournament, which began in 1970.

But that game-winning sequence stopped Sunday when Nalbandian broke Federer to open the final. After trading breaks in each of the first two sets and clinging on in tiebreakers, Federer won only three games in the third and fourth sets.

Nalbandian's luck changed when he swapped his sweat-soaked black shirt for a red one. He'd wasted three set points and then spiked his racket into the court after the second set. He won 16 of the next 19 games.

Federer twice gave Nalbandian break-point chances with double-faults in the fifth set and once surrendering a break with a double-fault. He finished with eight for the match.

Groups of fans at Qi Zhong Stadium wearing red-and-white Swiss shirts willed Federer back into the match. His girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, sitting near the court, urged him to "hang on."

After winning only five points in the first four games of the fifth, Federer broke Nalbandian twice and held twice to pull even at 4-4.

Nalbandian dropped serve again in the 11th game and went behind 30-0 in the next. But he won the next six to force a tiebreaker and then led it 2-0. Federer hung his head after missing a volley to fall behind 4-2 in the tiebreaker. He won only one more point.

Federer was assured the No. 1 year-end ranking for the second consecutive season when he won his 11th title of the year in Thailand on Oct. 2. He injured his ankle in practice the following week.

Despite the lack of training, Federer rallied a week ago to beat Nalbandian in an opening round-robin match. Until the final, he'd won 14 consecutive Masters Cup matches since losing the 2002 semifinal to Hewitt.

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