| Roger Federer in action during the final in Halle Sunday. He won 6-1, 6-3. (AFP)
Halle: Top-seeded Roger Federer collected his first grass title and fourth overall this year at the Gerry Weber Open on Sunday, when he beat Nicolas Kiefer of Germany 6-1, 6-3.
Federer broke Kiefer on his first service game and then needed just 68 minutes to end the lopsided match against the unseeded German by sending a volley into the open court at the Wimbledon warm-up.
He bounced back from a first-round exit at the French Open three weeks ago, the latest disappointment in a Grand Slam for the world no. 5. It was also his tour-best 43rd victory this season.
“But lucky for this tournament, I had eight days off. I was optimally prepared,” Federer said. “I’m very proud to win this event.”
The Swiss player won the eighth title of his career and joined 11 other active players on the tour in claiming wins on all four major surfaces, including hard courts, clay and indoors.
“I believe if you can win on all four surfaces, that’s something special. Especially if you’re as young as I am,” said the 21-year-old.
Federer, long regarded as a player with the talent to win Wimbledon, turned in some impressive performances on grass at the $940,000 event in preparation for the Grand Slam event starting June 23.
The field, however, was depleted by the late withdrawals of players like Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Fererro.
Kiefer, once the world no. 4, had won just two matches heading into the event in Halle, which is located just 80 kilometres from where the German was born.
Kiefer credited a vocal home crowd for pushing him to victory in a near three-hour marathon against Frenchman Arnaud Clement on Saturday.
But Federer silenced the 9,000 spectators by never giving the German a chance. He beat a nervous mistake-prone Kiefer both at the net and from the baseline. In just 25 minutes, the Swiss raced to a 5-0 first set lead.
“I have no excuse. He was just better,” Kiefer said.
Kiefer has lost the final two straight years, last year falling to Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Federer is burning to be the world No. 1, something that seemed like a very good bet on July 2, 2001.
That was the day the then 19-year-old beat Pete Sampras in the fourth round of Wimbledon, ending the American’s 31-match winning streak at the all-England club.
But if Federer created a sensation at Wimbledon that year, since then his performances at the Grand Slams have proved an obstacle, and sometime embarrassment, to a player regarded as a huge talent, a player with smooth skills at all aspects of the games.
In fact, when asked what he needs to improve in to gain the top ranking, only one thing comes to Federer’s mind.
“I’m very close to No. 1, it’s an extreme motivation for me,” Federer said. “But I have to do better at the Grand Slams. Otherwise I can’t move from the spot.”
The Swiss player has a 42-9 record this year, the most wins on the tour, and he’s claimed three titles. But he finished last year at No. 6, now he’s just moved up to No. 5.
He lost in the first round of the French Open three weeks ago, setting himself up for a possible awkward double-double.
If he were to lose his first match in Wimbledon, which starts June 23, he would have made a first round exit in both the Grand Slams two years running.
The 21-year-old has twice reached the quarter finals of a Grand Slam, both in 2001. Most people would say that’s not enough for a player that Lleyton Hewitt, No. 1 most of the past 18 months, once said would be his biggest rival.
Federer arrived at the Gerry Weber Open, a Wimbledon warm-up, five days early to practice on grass. He has changed his approach to adjusting to the surface, hanging back at the baseline in matches instead of immediately rushing to the net as in past years.
The Swiss will skip next week’s Rosmalen and head to Wimbledon to practice some more on grass.
He doesn’t want to repeat the embarrassment of last year at the all-England court, losing to Croatian Mario Ancic in the first round on center court. Apparently that was the most bitter of his fast exits at a Grand Slam.
“That one was very disappointing,” Federer said.
Federer has reached the final of the Gerry Weber, where he’s seeking his eighth title on grass. He beat Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny 4-6, 7-4 (4), 6-2 in Saturday’s semi-final.