Tennis: Revitalised Federer back in grand form
Only two months ago, Roger Federer was nursing his wounds after a second successive defeat in a Grand Slam quarter-final, but the former world No 1 will go into next week's US Open in New York as the clear favourite to win the last major title of the year.
Having lost in the final of the Toronto Masters eight days ago in his first tournament since Wimbledon, Federer went one better on Sunday night when he successfully defended his crown in Cincinnati. In beating Mardy Fish 6-7 7-6 6-4 after a tight final, Federer won his first tournament since the Australian Open at the start of the year.
In winning his 63rd tournament in total, Federer moved level with Bjorn Borg and into joint-fifth place on the all-time list behind Jimmy Connors (109 titles), Ivan Lendl (94), John McEnroe (77) and Pete Sampras (64).
Most significantly, the result will give Federer hope that he has put behind him the disappointments of what has been, by his standards, an indifferent last six months. Since beating Murray in Melbourne, Federer had lost finals in Madrid (to Rafael Nadal), in Halle (to Lleyton Hewitt) and in Toronto (to Andy Murray). Sunday's success prevented him losing a fourth successive final for the first time in his career.
The fast conditions in Cincinnati make the event the ideal preparation for the US Open, which Federer won five years in a row until his defeat to Juan Martin del Potro in last summer's final. With Nadal having never gone beyond the semi-finals in New York, it could be down to Murray to provide the biggest challenge to Federer.
Fish will be another who will fancy his chances at Flushing Meadows following the best run of his career. Sunday's defeat ended a run of five successive victories against top-10 players by the 28-year-old from Tampa, who has not looked back since losing two stone in weight last winter.
The American was not even in the world's top 100 less than six months ago but will climb to No 21 in today's updated ranking list, having won 22 of his 26 matches since the beginning of June. During that run he has won titles at Newport and Atlanta and reached the finals at both Queen's Club and Cincinnati.
Federer has been working on a trial basis with Paul Annacone, and the former coach of Sampras and Tim Henman appears to have restored some zip to his game. Federer served well throughout the tournament, dropping serve only once, and has hit his returns with more aggression than in the recent past.
The big-hitting Fish provided the sternest of tests in a final that featured only one break of serve. Having exchanged tie-breaks in the opening two sets -- Fish won the first 7-5 and Federer the second 7-1 -- the Swiss made the decisive break in the ninth game of the decider.
Fish, who forced only one break-point all match, saved four in the first set, but from 4-4 and 30-15 in the third set he made three successive errors, enabling Federer to claim his fourth Cincinnati title by serving out for victory in the following game.
If Federer lasted better than his opponent that was perhaps no surprise, given their respective runs to the final. Having needed a wild card to play in the tournament, Fish reached his third Masters Series final -- he is still awaiting his first victory -- by beating Gilles Simon, Fernando Verdasco, Richard Gasquet, Murray and Andy Roddick.
Federer, meanwhile, had been on court for a total of less than three and a half hours in his previous matches, a bye, a withdrawal and a retirement having required the Swiss to complete only two other victories, against Nikolay Davydenko and Marcos Baghdatis.
After the match Fish hailed Federer as "a true champion, the greatest of all time", while the world No 2 described his week's work as "perfect". He added: "It could have gone either way. It was a wonderful tournament for both of us." (© Independent News Service)