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No ego, just eye on tennis history

Roger Federer is tied with Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker for major titles (six) among Open era (since 1968) players.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published September 13, 2005


NEW YORK - There was no entourage.

No security team.

No shrieking fans.

When Roger Federer arrived at the ESPN Zone in Times Square on Monday afternoon in a white SUV with his longtime girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, he did so quietly and in relative obscurity, which is exactly Federer's style. It's not that he shies away from stardom. He just doesn't go searching for it.

In the aftermath of his 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1 victory Sunday over Andre Agassi in the men's final of the U.S. Open, some are calling Federer the greatest player who ever lived. And while such talk could hatch many an overinflated ego, Federer appears to be the same friendly and humble guy who turned professional in 1998. Though he admits to being impressed with his achievements, he is not in awe or content with them.

"You always find new records," he said Monday. "And that's the interesting thing about it. I'm happy to face history and records. It makes it more fun to play for me."

For those keeping score at home, Federer is tied with Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker for major titles among Open era (since 1968) players with six. He's one behind John McEnroe and two back of Agassi. Pete Sampras holds the record of 14.

At age 24, Federer seemingly has a shot of surpassing Sampras, but right now he says any such talk is premature.

"He's far off," Federer said. "He still has some margin."

But for how long?

Among Federer's many great qualities is his ability to win on any surface, which makes him a threat at each of the four majors. He's the first man in 67 years to claim Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in consecutive years, and he has won the Australian Open and was a semifinalist at this year's French Open. In other words, a calendar Grand Slam, though difficult, isn't entirely unattainable for a player with Federer's talents.

To the Swiss star's credit, he doesn't concentrate solely on majors. While he appreciates their significance, he also values his other 26 titles.

"I don't just look at the Slams as the only things that matter," he said.

Just how did Federer reach this incredible peak?

With work and perseverance, he said. As he worked his way up the charts, he tried to continually learn from his successes and failures. And along the way, the player who early in his career was pegged for greatness but criticized for lacking mental toughness, became a champion.

"It's a process," Federer said. "I have many milestones."

Federer is an amazing 71-3 this year (and had match points in two of the defeats), 23-0 in finals over the past two years and owns 35 straight hardcourt victories, a record. He has more than $5-million in earnings this year and more than $19-million for his career.

Now, the question is, can he maintain his excellence?

"You can't keep it up all the time," Federer said. "It would be too much to ask of yourself year in and year out to always win two or three (majors) a year. It's hard, mentally and physically. It's a draining sport."

SHARAPOVA AGAIN NO. 1: Maria Sharapova regained her No. 1 ranking after reaching the Open semifinals, and Mary Pierce jumped six spots to No. 6, entering the top 10 for the first time since 2001. Lindsay Davenport fell to No. 2. Among the men, Federer remained No. 1 followed by Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt. Agassi is No. 6, advancing one spot.

WISMILAK INTERNATIONAL: Francesca Schiavone struggled against little-known American Jamea Jackson in the first round at Bali, Indonesia, but the Italian held on to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Schiavone blamed her poor showing on a 40-hour journey from the Open.

--Information from the Associated Press was used in the report.