For just a touch less than two hours, Roger Federer caught near perfection on one of the biggest stages in tennis.
As his aura of invincibility increased with each forehand winner, Federer wiped the court with one of the game's hottest players.
On a cool, clear Sunday afternoon, the top-ranked Federer obliterated a player who had yet to lose a set in the U.S. Open, smoking Lleyton Hewitt, 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0. No player had lost two sets at love in the Open final in 120 years.
With a scream, the 23-year-old Federer sank to his knees and rolled over on his back in disbelief and joy at his historic feat, becoming the first man in the Open era to win his first four Grand Slam finals.
"When I was lying on the back, I look up, I saw the lights around the stadium," said Federer, who has now won nine tournaments in 2004. "I thought, 'This is unbelievable.' You know, I could not believe it. Again, like every Slam I won, very close to tears. It's too much for me to understand right now what I have achieved. So it's going to take me time."
An understated smile graced Federer's face as he raised his third Slam trophy of 2004, making him the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to take three of the four majors in a single year. The Swiss player joined Wilander, Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver, who took all four, as the only men who have won at least three of the four in the Open era.
Having not dropped a set coming into the final, it took Hewitt just 18 minutes to lose the first on Sunday. With two straight tournament wins and 16 straight match victories, Hewitt lost for the first time since Andre Agassi beat him in the final at Cincinnati in early August.
"When he's, you know, playing like he did in especially the first set there today, there's very little you can do out there," Hewitt, the fourth seed, said. "He returned extremely well. It was hard to get any cheap points off him as well. . . . He's in a different league to all the other players that I played these two weeks."
In the end, that might have been one of Hewitt's problems in the final. The 23-year-old Australian may have been hurt by the lack of top-flight competition he saw in the tournament. His semifinal matchup with No. 28 Joachim Johansson marked the highest-ranked player he faced in Flushing Meadows.
Sunday's lighting-fast first set bore an almost uncanny resemblance to Elena Dementieva's first set crushing of Jennifer Capriati in their semifinal match. Capriati and Hewitt each managed just five points in their first sets, while losing six straight games. Hewitt certainly helped give the set away, double-faulting on each of Federer's first two break points.
"For me, the first, obviously, was a perfect start," Federer said. "My forehand was working, you know, really to perfection. I had the feeling also I was doing very few unforced errors. Always putting him under pressure."
Federer has exhibited dominance in his most important matches, losing only a single set in eight career Grand Slam semifinals and finals. He dropped the first set of the 2004 Wimbledon final to Andy Roddick, then rallied to win in four sets.
"Today he didn't have too many [weaknesses], but, you know, there's obviously a couple of games there where I had a window of opportunity where he started missing a little bit," Hewitt said. "If I could have held my serve easier at the start of the match, and, as I said, put some pressure on his service games, it could have been a little bit different."
Nearly flawless at the net -- and with almost all of his shots -- Federer slammed home 31 of 35 points when he approached the middle of the court.
And he always seemed to come up with the big ace. When Hewitt had his first break chance, in the sixth game of the second set, Federer responded with three straight aces of at least 124 mph to take the game.
But Hewitt fought back in the 68-minute second set. After going down a break early, in the first game of the set, Hewitt finally held his serve for the first time on his first game point opportunity -- breaking Federer's streak of eight straight games in the match.
And, in the best game of the day, Hewitt broke back in the 10th game to even the set and provide some drama for the capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. After six deuces and three set points, Federer sent a backhand just wide of the line on Hewitt's fourth break chance, leading to the set's tiebreaker.
Yet the tight play was short-lived. Federer took the tiebreaker with little trouble, then the pair moved into what would be the final set. Again, Federer took absolute control and, in just 25 minutes, swept another six straight games for a second set victory at love and the championship.
"Well, I don't think anyone in the, anyone in the actual tournament" could have beaten Federer on Sunday, Hewitt said. "I don't know. Maybe Pete Sampras."
After the match, Federer didn't seem to believe his feat either. With the top ranking all locked up and four Grand Slams under his belt -- Wimbledon last year, plus this year's hat trick -- Federer isn't quite ready to cement his standing in history. But he isn't ready to discount it either.
"I hope for the people who know me, they know that this is not a normal thing I am doing right now," Federer said.
"This is something out of this world for myself. I'll look back with a smile, that's for sure."