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Federer downs Agassi in thriller

Houston: Wimbledon champion Roger Federer saved two match points on way to a stirring 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 win over Andre Agassi in the ATP Masters Cup on Monday, keeping alive his faint hopes of finishing the year as world No. 1.

Federer arrived at the $3.65 million season-ending event with only a slim chance of closing out the season in top spot and remains a long shot despite registering his first career win in four meetings with Agassi in a two-hour, 30 minute thriller.

If the year-end top ranking is to go to Switzerland for the first time, not only must Federer capture the Masters Cup but current No. 1 Andy Roddick must go winless through the round-robin stage while the other contender, Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, can win just once.

The Spaniard kept Federer’s aspirations alive earlier on Monday by falling tamely 6-3, 6-1 to Argentine David Nalbandian in the other Blue Group encounter.

“It’s nice to beat such players one time in your career,” Federer said, reflecting on his first success over Agassi. “I wasn’t thinking about it (number one) during the match but after, I thought ‘Oh, I’m still in the race’.

“I don’t even know what has to happen but I think Andy is not allowed to win a match. It can definitely happen because he’s playing against good guys but the chances are rather small.”

Seeing his first action since a semi-final loss to Ferrero at the US Open, a well-rested Agassi, supported by a fanatical crowd, needed only a few games to shake off the rust under the floodlit stadium court.

When Federer got the contest off to the best possible start, breaking Agassi at the first opportunity to pull ahead 2-0, it appeared as if the eight-time Grand Slam winner might be in for a short night. But Agassi quickly let Federer know his time away from the court had done nothing to dull his competitive edge, immediately breaking back then going on to take the set in a tiebreak 7-3.

“He (Federer) hit two real good returns when I was serving for the match and then, obviously, hit a great shot to win the match,” Agassi said. (Reuters)

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