Federer Frightens Rivals with Ever-Improving Game

No. 1 seed Roger Federer is hoping to mark 2007 as the fourth consecutive year he is crowned U.S. Open champion. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand
For all of his magical shotmaking and amazing precision under pressure, the most frightening thing about Roger Federer is that he feels he is still getting better.??

On the verge of a possible 12th Grand Slam crown--by taking his fourth US Open title in a row Sunday at Flushing Meadows--the 26-year-old Swiss maestro is playing formidable tennis, and still finding ways to improve.??

"I'm happy actually with where my game is going," Federer said. "It would be nice if I improve. I think I've gotten better over the years. I think my serve has improved again."??

Federer is 11-2 in Grand Slam finals, having taken his fifth Wimbledon crown in a row in July after nabbing his third Australian Open title in four years back in January. Stretching his US Open streak is the next goal.??

"Four in a row, of course it would be kind of special," Federer said. "It would be nice to make it."??

A triumph in Sunday's final at Arthur Ashe Stadium would give Federer three Slam titles in a year for the third time in four years. Pete Sampras, who owns the all-time career Slam record of 14, never won more than two in a year.??

While not indestructible, Federer plays best when it matters most.??

"I can't play every season and win almost 80 or 90 matches, hardly lose any. Obviously you're going to lose once in a while," Federer said.??

"But I'm happy the way I'm maintaining this great ability of coming up with the important wins when I have to. I'm at my best always at the Slams. This is where the focus is the biggest.??

"I'm still pretty much the same player, just got more matches under my belt. I improved a little bit on a few things but you're not going to change your game entirely. I'm happy where my game is, my fitness and my mental part."??

This is Federer's record 188th week in a row atop the rankings, having surpassed Steffi Graf for the longest such streak by a man or woman the day the US Open began.??

Still absent from Federer's glitzy resume is a French Open crown, having been denied in the final each of the past two years on the red clay of Roland Garros by Spain's Rafael Nadal.??

But little else is missing as Federer boasts the most versatile arsenal in tennis.??

"I count on many things in my game to work. If my serve doesn't work I know my baseline game helps me out. So if one thing breaks down I'm still OK," he said.??

"Mentally I'm always aware of my opponent. I never underestimate. I think that's one very important aspect.??

"And usually I can play the moment very well. That's also one very important part of my game, to understand the moment. Put all of them together, I know I have a big repertoire of shots and things I can choose from."??

When it comes to flawless Swiss timing and accuracy, nobody is better than Federer and nobody knows that better than third-ranked Serbian Novak Djokovic, who beat Federer in a Montreal final last month after four prior losses.??

"It's difficult to play him. He's a perfectionist. All his shots are really good," Djokovic said.??

"Mentally he's the strongest player in the world. He plays his best tennis in the most important moments.??

"The only thing you can do is keep it up with him, play every point, try to be focused, wait for your chances."??

They are few and far between. Federer has not lost a US Open match since falling in the fourth round in 2003 to Argentina's David Nalbandian. That defeat came in Federer's first event after his first Slam title at Wimbledon.??

Federer fell to 0-5 against Nalbandian with that loss but since then he has beaten Nalbandian eight times out of nine.??

"Nalbandian used to be one of the guys that I couldn't really figure out how to play against," Federer said. "That match for me was a bit of a turnaround because that was maybe the last time I lost to him on that streak."

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