The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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On a roll, the Roger I know

A beautiful windy evening in Melbourne with the temperature in the low-20s. The Rod Laver Arena was packed with 14,500 fans ó an ideal setting for the yearís first Grand Slam final featuring two players riding high on some wonderful tennis they played over the past fortnight.

Both Roger and Fernando started a bit edgily as they felt each other out and fought with the nerves inevitably associated with a Grand Slam final ó whether you are playing your 11th (like Roger) or first one (like Fernando was).

The free-stroking Fernando drew first blood and broke for a 5-4 lead. The Chilean wasted one set-point with a wayward forehand. On the second set-point, at 40-30, Fernando went for a difficult shot and the ball fell back on his side after clipping the top of the net.

Fernandoís chance to win the opening set ó against a man who hadnít dropped one in the entire championship ó had come and gone. (Not since Bjorn Borgís run to the 1980 Roland Garros title had a man won a major without dropping a set.)

It would be easy to criticise Fernando for taking a risk on such a huge point, but thatís his style. He has worked with new coach Larry Stefanki to create winners rather than play percentage shots. Heís become so confident with his shot-selection that he doesnít hold back.

Roger played two vintage points at deuce to wriggle out of danger. On breakback point, the Swiss chipped a short backhand return, crosscourt, the spin keeping the ball barely two inches off the surface. Fernando, drawn to the net, did well to scoop it back but the ball sat up nicely for the champion to put it away and level scores.

As far as I am concerned, this was the turning point as Roger exposed Fernandoís weakness at the net and kept capitalising on it as the match progressed. Fernando couldnít be aggressive with that chipped low return of Rogerís and looked like a fish out of water at the net.

Despite creating chances with some brilliant tennis, Fernando succumbed to the Federer pressure in the tie-break.

Rogerís serving improved appreciably after the opening set. In the third set, Roger got in 82 per cent of his first serves Ė thatís an amazing piece of statistic. Many say Sampras had the best serve, but having played against both him and Roger, I can say the Swiss possesses a more potent serve.

It put tremendous pressure on Fernando. Unlike in the semi-final, when he hit 45 winners and made three errors, on Sunday the Chilean had 31 winners and 28 unforced errors.

We all know how good Roger's offence is. On Sunday, he showed he can be just as potent with his defensive play. He knew he was up against an aggressive player who had caned the likes of Hewitt, Nadal, Blake and Haas in the previous rounds. So he came up with the right kind of tactic to nullify Fernandoís advantage.

The Chilean can really hold his head high. He didnít lose the final because of a lack of performance, his game was blunted by the greatest player of our era. He can take a lot of confidence from this fortnight and strive to work harder under Stefanki.

And where does Roger go from here' Well, he can aim for a calendar Grand Slam which he missed out narrowly last year. He has to win the French Open -- the only major that has eluded him so far -- and I feel he is very close to doing that as well.

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