Federer favored to defend championship

Sunday, August 28, 2005

No. 7 seed Agassi may be playing in his last U.S. Open.

NEW YORK -- Everything seems to be clicking for Roger Federer.

He's won an Open-era record 22 straight finals, is 64-3 in matches this year, and has been No. 1 for 82 consecutive weeks. Some have dubbed him "The Federer Express," others "The Maestro."

Which does he prefer as he heads into the U.S. Open as the prohibitive favorite?

"Maestro is pretty cool," he said with a grin.

Federer is the oddsmakers' favorite to win the Open, with Spain's Rafael Nadal and American Andy Roddick the next two choices. No. 7 Andre Agassi, the 1994 and 1999 champion, surely will be the sentimental favorite of the crowd. No one, not even Agassi, knows whether this will be his last U.S. Open.

Maria Sharapova comes into the Open as the women's top seed, but she's only the third choice among the oddsmakers behind No. 4 Kim Clijsters and No. 7 Justine Henin-Hardenne. Venus Williams, No. 10, is rated a better bet than her sister, No. 8 Serena, and No. 2 Lindsay Davenport.

The courts at the National Tennis Center are blue now rather than green, the money is bigger than ever, and for the first time fans can keep stray balls. There's a giant new draw board with a retro, manually operated touch.

Federer spoke at a dinner in the days leading up to the U.S. Open, which begins Monday, about how his life and tennis had come together in the past two years -- how it all became less of a struggle than when he was younger.

"I know what I'm sacrificing for," he said. "It makes sense to me now. I really have my life in control. Everything is pink, no, I mean, how you say, rosy."

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