Federer the Conqueror Isn't Done Yet
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
After the flash bulbs and huge roars that accompanied his cross-generational final against Andre Agassi at the United States Open on Sunday, Roger Federer was in a dark, quiet lounge yesterday in a sports bar in Times Square.
As Federer, one of the most accessible modern tennis champions, stretched out for an interview in an overstuffed chair - as if he were a well-groomed and contented cat - the huge television screens behind him flashed images of his four-set victory and the gaudy statistics that went along with it.
Federer is 6-0 in Grand Slam finals and has yet to be pushed to the five-set limit in any of them. So far this year, he has a 71-3 record and has broken Pete Sampras's Open-era mark by winning 35 consecutive matches on hardcourts.
"There are a lot of numbers," Federer said, shaking his head slowly as he began the recovery phase after another two-week test of his considerable abilities and a night of low-key celebration that did not end until 3 a.m.
For a young man who once had trouble harnessing the full force of his talent, Federer has become perhaps the most ruthless closer in sports, and of all the flattering statistics, the one that means the most to him is his 23-0 record in his past 23 finals.
"That's the one I'm really proud of," he said. "I wasn't really famous for consistency when I came along, so I turned that around and that makes me feel really good about myself, to know that when it really matters, I can find a way to be always on top of my game and pull it off every single time, even though I know that streak might end very quickly."
His last loss in a final came on July 13, 2003 when he was beaten by Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic in Gstaad, Switzerland. Until Federer went on his roll, the previous record for consecutive victories in finals was 12, held jointly by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
What makes Federer's streak more remarkable is that it includes titles on all the major surfaces: 16 on hard court, 4 on grass and 3 on clay. Agassi, like anyone who understands the game, is impressed. After losing to Federer eight straight times, Agassi ranks him as the greatest player he has faced in his two-decade career.
"Look, that's nice of Andre," Federer said. "But honestly, you can't forget about Sampras. At his best, nobody would want to play him. You can't forget about the former stars. It might be true that I'm making records and I'm dominating. It might be true that the most recent champions have a higher level because the level of tennis keeps advancing. But I'm not forgetting about the others."
Though Federer is sounding more like a man with a healthy if uninflated ego, he says he does not believe that he will succumb to complacency as the titles and seven-figure winner's checks keep piling up.
"I have the feeling that I went through a lot as a boy with my career, lots of ups and downs," he said. "Finally I'm on the top, and people ask, 'How can you stay motivated?' I am really in the mood to try to achieve more. I enjoy winning. I enjoy playing in front of the crowd. I like that challenge. I like to take on the other guys. I don't like to hide. I could sit at home and be No. 1 in the world and look at the other guys and say, 'You battle it out, and I'll come when it really matters.' But no, I want to play also some smaller events."
"I enjoy traveling the world and playing. So for me, so far, it's not something I'm questioning inside me."
Federer will next play near home in Switzerland; he returns to the Swiss Davis Cup team on Sept. 23 for its relegation-round match with Britain in Geneva. He remains reluctant to make a career objective of Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Sampras won seven majors before he was 25. Federer, who turned 24 last month, has six. "I don't like just to look at the Slams as the only thing that matters," Federer said. "For me, it means the other tournaments, when I'm competing against the best players or playing in front of thousands of people, don't really matter."
"I have 32 titles, and 6 of them are Grand Slams, so you see the majority are other tournaments."
But even after a short night's sleep, Federer had not changed his mind about this Grand Slam title. It was one of the highlights of his career, he said, because he shook free of a suspect form in the early rounds, and because of the context of the final against Agassi.
"I'm not surprised that he wants to keep going, even at 35," Federer said. "As long as he's not playing with pain and he's happy to play a few tournaments a year, why shouldn't he?"