- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NEW YORK | No matter what anyone else said or thought, Roger Federer knew he was still capable of elite tennis.

Knew he was still capable of winning Grand Slam titles.

Knew he was still Roger Federer.

Back at his best, back at the top of tennis, Federer easily beat Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 on Monday to win his fifth consecutive U.S. Open championship and 13th major title overall.

Federer is the first man since Bill Tilden in the 1920s to win the tournament that many times in a row. He also moved within one major championship of tying Pete Sampras’ career record of 14.

“One thing’s for sure,” Federer said in an on-court interview. “I’m not going to stop at 13. That would be terrible.”

The victory clearly came as something of a relief to Federer, who has struggled during a lackluster-only-for-him season. He lost in the semifinals at the Australian Open and to nemesis Rafael Nadal in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon, meaning Federer was on the verge of his first year since 2002 without a major title. And his record streak of 237 consecutive weeks at No. 1 ended last month when Nadal surpassed him.

“I had a couple of tough Grand Slams this year … so to take this one home is incredible,” Federer said. “It means the world to me.”

The sixth-seeded Murray upset Nadal in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows to reach his first Grand Slam championship match, and Federer had no trouble this time - even though he had lost two of his previous three matches against the Scotsman.

“I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game,” said Murray, who tried to give Britain its first men’s major champion in 72 years. “He definitely set the record straight today.”

At 21, here’s how young Murray is: When Federer was winning his first U.S. Open title in 2004, Murray was taking the U.S. Open junior trophy.

Federer, coincidentally, was the same age when he played in his first Grand Slam final back in 2003 at Wimbledon. Except Federer won that and has kept winning major championship matches against everyone except Nadal.

Indeed, Murray can consider himself in good company: Federer’s other four finals at Flushing Meadows came against four men who have won Grand Slam titles: Lleyton Hewitt, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic.

“I’m sure we’re going to see much more of Andy in the future,” said the second-seeded Federer, who dominated every facet of this final.

He accumulated a 36-16 advantage in winners and a 7-2 count in breaks of serve and won the point on 31 of 44 trips to the net, compared with a 7-for-11 showing by Murray.

Murray - assured of rising to a career-best No. 4 in the rankings - stood about 10 feet behind the baseline to return serves, exactly the way he did in upsetting Nadal in their two-day, rain-interrupted semifinal over the weekend. And Murray did display flashes of the get-to-every-ball defense he used against Nadal, including one pretty flick of a lob by Federer with his back to the net.

But Federer, who might have benefited from an extra day to rest because his semifinal wasn’t affected by Tropical Storm Hanna, was simply too much for Murray.

Too good. Too smart. Too experienced.

At only one juncture did Murray really throw a scare into his opponent on this day, taking 11 of 12 points to go from 2-0 down in the second set to 2-2 and love-40 on Federer’s serve.

Federer saved the first of those break points, and on the second they engaged in a 14-stroke rally that ended with Murray missing a backhand. TV replays, though, showed one of Federer’s shots during the rally should have been called out - and had it been, Murray would have had a break and a 3-2 lead in the set.

But there was no call and no reprieve because Federer stayed steady enough to save the third break point there and go on to hold serve.

“That was key,” Federer said. “After that, I began to play freely, the way I usually do.”

Federer later broke Murray at love in the last game of the second set, closing it on a 10-stroke point that was a thing of beauty. First, Federer extended the point with some superb court coverage, and then - shifting from defense to offense in a blink - he ended it with a forehand passing winner.

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