A 'Perfect Machine,' Federer Storms Into Nasdaq Final

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 1, 2006

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla., March 31 -- Anybody who showed up an hour late to Friday's Nasdaq-100 Open semifinal would have seen only a stadium emptying and two players stuffing rackets into tennis bags. It took top-ranked Roger Federer just 59 minutes to add Spaniard David Ferrer to the list of men who have whiffed magnificently against him, winning 6-1, 6-4 in a match more fascinating for the magnitude of Federer's dominance than any hint of drama, other than a brief surge by Ferrer at the start of the second set that was quickly snuffed out.

Less than 90 minutes after the match's start, Federer was showered, dressed in street clothes and finishing up the mandatory postmatch interview session as ESPN2 was forced to plug its unexpected programming void with a repeat of one of Thursday's women's semifinals. The crowd, meantime, had to settle for a gripping women's doubles match.

"Roger Federer is a sort of freak of nature," coaching legend Nick Bollettieri said outside stadium court. "He is the perfect machine and he has got the high-test gasoline to run the machine. To me, he's the best that's ever played."

It is worth noting that Bollettieri made those lofty remarks shortly before Federer's match commenced. Hard to imagine the superlatives if he had spoken after. It took Federer, who is 27-1 this year, just 18 minutes to win the first set. If not for falling behind 3-0 with a host of reckless errors at the start of the second, Federer could have crammed the victory into the time slot for a sitcom.

There was, certainly, some comedy to the ease at which Federer pushed aside Ferrer, the world's 11th-ranked man.

"That's one thing we all have in common," said Croat Ivan Ljubicic, ranked sixth. "We play tennis, and we play against Roger. And we lose."

Interesting words from the very man who will face Federer in Sunday's final, having dominated his semifinal earlier Friday, 6-1, 6-2, against Argentine David Nalbandian. Despite his own easy victory and the elation he expressed about the current state of his game, Ljubicic made it quite clear his confidence overfloweth only until he sees Federer across the court. He made it clear he is preparing himself for the second-place trophy here. Federer is 6-0 against him since 2005.

"The last two years, we've played a lot," Ljubicic said. "Unfortunately, I've lost all of them. . . . I just have to stick with my game plan. If he's better, he's better -- which he's probably going to be."

American James Blake, who fell to Federer in three sets in the quarterfinal round, genuflected just as heartily after that match Thursday, comparing Federer to Michael Jordan and himself to the rest of the NBA teams in the 1990s.

"You feel like you make Michael Jordan play well, but then every time he comes up and beats you and makes you realize why he's the best," Blake said. "I was hoping maybe I'd be better than him at the [line-call] challenges, but we were both 0 for 1 tonight. I didn't even beat him in that."

Federer won against Ferrer as he normally does: with a mix of the spectacular and routine. As often as he sprinted across the court to whack a seemingly impossible backhand passing shot (a notable example came in the seventh game of the second set), he stood calmly behind the baseline or at the net, punching winners as if taking practice shots while Ferrer chased futilely.

"I play with a feel for the game," Federer said. "If he allows me to play a shot I don't play very often, I guess I have to do it."

Friday's match represented quite a comedown for Ferrer, who ousted fourth-ranked Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. As quickly as Federer worked Ferrer over in the first set, Ferrer came back in the second, winning his third break point in the second game and holding serve in game three.

But then Federer adapted. He said he decided to take fewer risks to eliminate the unforced errors when down 3-0. About 20 minutes later, the match was over.

"He has the ability to see and react and then be able to neutralize and take offense," Bollettieri said. "You put all of those things together, and you say to yourself, the other players don't have a chance against him."

Ljubicic, who escaped war-torn Bosnia in 1992 when he was 13, is up next.

"He is really like a guide to me," Ljubicic said, "of what my game could be."

Note: France's Tatiana Golovin, who retired in the third set of a thrilling semifinal against Maria Sharapova Thursday, navigated the grounds here Friday on crutches and wearing a hot pink cast on her lower left leg. She said an MRI exam showed she suffered two torn ligaments on the outside of her ankle and a bone bruise and would be out of action for four to six weeks.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company