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Agassi meets Federer in Masters Cup final

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2003

HOUSTON Andre Agassi is one match from becoming the oldest winner of the ATP Tour's season-ending championship.

He faces a tough task, though: beating Roger Federer at the top of his powers.

Displaying the fluid game that brought him the Wimbledon title, Federer outclassed Andy Roddick 7-6 (2), 6-2 Saturday to reach the Tennis Masters Cup final.

Agassi, who's 33, beat Rainer Schuettler 5-7, 6-0, 6-4 in the other semifinal.

''A guy like Roger doesn't allow you to just lay off shots,'' Agassi said. ''He has firepower from a lot of different points.''

That was quite clear Saturday.

Federer flicked backhand passing shots at impossible angles, stretched into the doubles alley for volleys and chopped a brilliant lob that Roddick could only watch drop in while being broken in the next-to-last game.

''He was reading the game a lot faster than me,'' Roddick said. ''The guy has more natural flair and talent for the game than most than anybody, really.''

By improving to 5-1 against U.S. Open winner Roddick, Federer completed a hat-trick against the 2003 Grand Slam tournament champions. He beat Juan Carlos Ferrero (French Open) and Agassi (Australian Open) in round-robin action.

Federer will take home $1,520,000 if he beats Agassi again Sunday. He also can overtake Ferrero at No. 2 in the rankings and break a tie with Roddick for the tour lead by claiming his seventh title of 2003. Federer's 77 match wins are a season best.

''He's going to make you work,'' Federer said. ''It's my last match of the year, so I'm going to give it everything I have.''

At 22, Federer will have a decided ''age advantage'' in the best-of-five-set final against Agassi, whose first four matches this week all went the distance.

''I prefer my position by far,'' Federer said.

Agassi is the event's oldest finalist since 1978, and would be its oldest winner (Ilie Nastase was 29 in 1975).

''Stats are stats. My age is irrelevant to me when I'm on the court,'' said Agassi, who won this event in 1990. ''The tennis speaks for itself. You can't bluff your way through anything.''

After dropping the first set against Schuettler, Agassi won eight straight games.

The streak began oddly, with Schuettler's racket sliding out of his sweaty right palm during a serve.

The racket skidded along the purple court and stopped 5 feet away. The serve landed in, though, and Agassi returned it into the open court. All Schuettler could do was playfully kick at the ball.

From there, Agassi broke Schuettler for the first time and grabbed control.

''That's why he's a great player,'' the sixth-ranked Schuettler said. ''If you give him just a little bit of space, he takes over.''

Federer needed to save two match points during his victory over Agassi on Monday.

That was much tighter than Federer's semifinal, which he dominated in just about every aspect. He had 30 winners to Roddick's 12, won the point on 84 percent of his trips to the net, and even outaced the American 12-5.

Federer never faced a break point and converted both that he earned.

Neither player broke in the first set, sending it to the tiebreaker. Three straight errors by Roddick gave the Swiss star a 4-1 lead, and a forehand into the net made it 5-2. Roddick reacted to that mistake by throwing his racket to the court.

A crosscourt forehand winner gave a set point to Federer, who converted it with an ace at 108 mph.

Roddick's right arm was massaged by tour trainer Doug Spreen during the changeover after the American held serve for a 2-1 lead in the second set.

Roddick already assured of ending 2003 ranked No. 1 didn't win another game.

He was broken to 3-2, with the final point reminiscent of Federer's straight-set win over Roddick in the Wimbledon semifinals. Roddick smacked a 128-mph first serve, but it came right back at him. That began an 11-stroke rally, with Federer hitting a deep crosscourt backhand to set up a backhand winner down the line.

Roddick is looking forward to a rest after a breakthrough season in which he won his first major title and soared from 10th in the rankings.

''I'm upset that I lost, but I'm relieved that the year's over,'' Roddick said. ''I'm going to kind of chill out for a little while now.''



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