Federer avoids upset, wins Australian Open

Monday, January 30, 2006

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Always in control on the court, Roger Federer was overcome with emotion while accepting his Australian Open trophy from one of the few people he's still trying to match.

The top-ranked Federer fulfilled overwhelming expectations by beating unlikely finalist Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 in Sunday's final to claim his seventh Grand Slam title and third in succession.

He tearfully embraced tennis great Rod Laver while receiving his trophy. Laver twice swept the Grand Slams, a feat Federer will try to emulate this season -- if he finally can win a French Open.

Federer wept and was stuck for words at the award presentation.

"I was so happy," he said. "Then I had to go up on stage and speak. This is really too much for me sometimes. It's just a dream come true every time I win a Grand Slam.

"I can't block it out -- I'm also just human."

Federer maintained his perfect record in seven major finals. And, at 24, he's halfway toward Pete Sampras' all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles. Sampras also was 24 when he won his seventh.

Federer, who is the first since Sampras to win three consecutive majors, said he was unusually nervous as an overwhelming favorite against the 54th-ranked Cypriot, a former junior world champion.

"The whole fact of being such a huge favorite. And if I lose, a huge upset since I don't know when," Federer said. "The whole thing was building up and waiting all day for the night session -- that is nerve-racking on top of it. It was really tough for me mentally."

An 11-game winning streak from 5-5 in the second set eased Federer's nerves and took the match away from Baghdatis.

Baghdatis had three game points at 5-6 to force a tiebreaker in the second, but Federer rallied to break on a Baghdatis forehand that was ruled just long.

Federer then lifted his level of play, winning 27 of the 37 points in the third set to take control.

Federer's seven major titles tie him with eight other players -- including John McEnroe, John Newcombe and Mats Wilander -- and leave him one behind Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry and Ken Rosewall.

He passed childhood heroes Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg, who had six apiece.

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