Sunday March 7, 09:13 PM
Federer retains Dubai title
DUBAI (AFP) - World number one Roger Federer became the first man to successfully defend the Dubai Open title when he defeated unseeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 in Sundays final.
The top seeded Swiss player claimed his second title of the year, after the Australian Open, and the 13th title of his career.
It also ensured that Federer would maintain a cushion of at least 400 points at the top of the world rankings over Juan Carlos Ferrero, and edge further ahead of the third-placed Andy Roddick, who lost in the semi-finals in Scottsdale.
But Federer was given a tough time for a set and a half by the 22-year-old left-hander who was playing in the first ATP final of his career and could now reach the top 20 for the first time.
The Wimbledon champion showed his growing maturity as he weathered a storm of tremendous attacking from Lopez, before taking control.
"I'm very happy - it's been a great week for me," said Federer. "He started really well and it was difficult to come back and I had to fight hard. I had a little more experience but I think he is definitely going to win his first title soon."
Federer made an indifferent start, and ultimately it was this which cost him the first set. He put a backhand volley wide, without being under great pressure, to go 30-40 down, and followed it with a forehand drive over-hit to lose his serve.
It did wonders for Lopez's confidence in his first ATP final, particularly after he managed to cling on to his first service game after a shaky couple of points.
Soon he was striking inside out forehands which had great speed and good disguise and put Federer under pressure almost every time he connected with them.
He also showed quickly that he could win points from the forecourt or the back with about equal facility.
When Federer got a dreadful call in the sixth game - a Lopez delivery on the sideline was so long that even the sporting Swiss player protested - it created the feeling that the fates were not aligned in his favour.
But he made a big attempt to break back in the eighth game. It had seven deuces and Lopez survived five break points, though he might not have survived the first had Federer not sliced a disappointing backhand down the line into the tramlines.
The other four however were superbly saved by Lopez, who was building up some assertive serving, especially to the backhand court, and beginning to move around as if he felt he could win.
When serving for the set he slipped to 30-40 down but retrieved it with a winning smash-forehand drive combination despite some wonderfully athletic defence by Federer.
But the match changed direction after four games of the second set. Lopez had a winning opportunity at the net and missed an open court to go break point down, and Federer converted it by working his way to the net and putting away his volley.
Soon it was 4-1 as Federer held and 5-1 as Lopez played an indifferent service game, with the mood of the match shifting markedly as well. Federer closed out the set easily and looked more relaxed.
He continued into the final set by applying steady pressure while ensuring Lopez played plenty of balls.
It paid dividends. From a medium paced ball the young Spaniard put an attacking forehand into the net to go 30-40 down, and from a quiet little rolled backhand Lopez volleyed into the net to drop serve again.
That put Federer 2-1 up, and soon he had a double break, this time gifted to him by an opponent who was starting to feel the pressure and was responding erratically.
In his next service game at 40-30 Lopez slashed a high forehand volley into the net from right on top of it, and followed it with a half volley wide and another missed forehand volley in his next two net attacks.
It ended the match as a contest. Lopez saved a match point in his next service game, but 22-year-old Federer closed out the match on his serve without fuss.
"I thought he might keep it up," said Federer.
"But I found a way of doing something different on my returns, especially in the ad (advantage) court. It helped me to have played a left-hander (Jarkko Nieminen) the day before.
"Defending the title is something else and it's always special to come from a set down."
Lopez, 22, said: "I think I was close today, but he got better and better and I got down on myself.
"I always play well against Roger and he always beats me. But I will get confidence from this."