Federer, too much for everyone, wins Masters Cup

Sunday, November 19th 2006, 2:57 pm
By: News On 6

SHANGHAI, China (AP) James Blake learned what has become a fact of life on the tennis tour.

``Obviously, we're all chasing Roger,'' he said. ``It's no secret. He's playing head and shoulders above the rest of us.''

Looking more imposing with every tournament, Roger Federer concluded another overpowering season Sunday by routing Blake 6-0, 6-3, 6-4 for his third Masters Cup title.

The Swiss star has been ranked #1 since February 2, 2004, and already has enough points to ensure he'll break Jimmy Connors' record of 160 consecutive weeks atop the rankings by the end of February. Only two players (Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray) beat Federer this year.

He finished the season with 12 titles and 16 finals appearances from his 17 tournaments, winning $8.34 million. Already the first player to exceed $7 million in prize money in a season, Federer earned $1.52 million for his unbeaten run in Shanghai.

``To finish it off by winning the Masters Cup, the world championship so to speak, it's the perfect ending to an incredible season,'' Federer said. ``There's not much more I could have done.''

No argument from Blake, who needed 34 minutes to even get on the scoreboard. After the first set, Blake sat in his courtside chair with his shaved head in hands, most likely wondering what to do next.

``I did my best, and he was just a level above,'' Blake said.

The American will finish the year at a career-high #4 after entering the Masters Cup as the 8th ranked and last qualifier.

He beat #2 Rafael Nadal and #3 Nikolay Davydenko in the round-robin stage and then ousted defending champion David Nalbandian in the semifinals. Facing Federer, though, was another matter.

``Although it looked like I got just destroyed out there, I feel like I'm still one of the best in the world,'' Blake said. ``That's why I'm not ashamed of anything that happened.''

Less than 24 hours after Federer dismantled Nadal in the semifinals, giving him back to back wins against the 20-year-old Spaniard after 5 consecutive losses, he took Blake apart.

Blake failed to hold serve until the second game of the second set. Even then he had to save 2 break points.

``The first set he killed me,'' Blake said. ``I thought I got better, I actually finally broke him in the third set.''

Even Federer, who is 22-2 in Masters Cups, was taken aback by the thoroughness of his victory.

``It's quite surprising to come out and beat a fellow top 5 in the finals so convincing,'' he said. ``I had to laugh at one stage how well I was playing.

``I always came up with a great answer, I was in control pretty much all the time. Everything I wanted to do worked.''

Federer reached the finals at all four majors this year, and only his loss to Nadal at the French Open deprived him of a season Grand Slam. He finished the year with a 92-5 record and a 29-match winning streak. Connors' mark is particularly appealing to him.

``That is definitely one of the big records so far in my career,'' he said. ``I'm waiting for that date to come along, and then I'll celebrate it, not right now.''

Blake quickly discovered that the all-or-nothing approach that worked for him earlier in the tournament did not unsettle Federer. The scoreline became so lopsided that the crowd cheered raucously for all of Blake's points. By the third set, even Blake was applauding some of Federer's winners.

``I appreciate the support you gave me when Roger was giving me a lesson,'' Blake told the crowd at Qi Zhong Stadium. ``I'm honored to be considered a colleague of his.''

Blake's only break came when Federer was serving for the match at 5-2. But that merely delayed the inevitable by minutes. Federer served out at love the next time, setting up triple match point with a backhand down the line and winning when Blake netted a return.

``I've probably run out of adjectives to describe him on the court to talk about his excellence,'' Blake said. ``He's just unbelievable.''

Blake said he was proud of his year, coming back from career-threatening injuries and the death of his father in 2004 to be into the top 5.

``After this whole week, I know playing against these top players, that I feel like I belonged,'' he said. ``Maybe next year I'll get closer. ... I hope one of these days I get a win over him.''

Jonas Bjorkman and Max Mirnyi combined for their first Masters Cup doubles title, defeating Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor 6-2, 6-4.