Federer nets new best friend

ROGER FEDERER and Tiger Woods broke open two bottles of Dom Perignon and toasted — to a growing friendship, greatness and Grand Slams.

With his new best pal watching from a corner box, Federer rocketed a final forehand past Andy Roddick, fell to his knees, then flopped onto his back. He’d won his third straight US Open title in convincing fashion on Sunday: 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 and 6-1.

When it was over, Federer returned to the locker room, cracked open the champagne and spent an hour with perhaps the only other athlete who understands such sheer domination.

They’d met for the first time earlier in the day, but had been distant admirers. And after Federer’s third Grand Slam win this year and ninth overall — Woods has won 12 majors — they visited. Federer sat while Woods stood with his foot on a chair, two champions in the zone.

“More and more often, over the last year or so, I’ve been compared to Tiger,” Federer said. “I asked him how it was for him. Many things were similar. He knew exactly how I felt out on the court.

“That’s something that I haven’t felt before: A guy who knows how it feels to feel invincible ... when you have the feeling there’s nothing going wrong anymore,” he said.

Federer called his parents in Switzerland. Avid golfers, they were thrilled when he put Woods on the phone.

And that only reinforced Federer’s solid first impression.

“He’s very nice, and much nicer than I expected. I thought him to be nice, but he’s really, really nice; so that’s nice,” Federer enthused.

At a tournament where two weeks were spent paying tribute to the game’s greats — Andre Agassi’s tear-filled goodbye, Martina Navratilova’s for-real retirement and the renaming of the tennis centre in Billie Jean King’s honour — Federer left his mark.

Only 25, many think he’ll wind up being called the best player ever. This was the first Grand Slam event to use instant replay to challenge calls — 32% were overturned, overall — yet no one contested Federer’s dominance.

“Obviously, he’s the guy everybody’s chasing,” said Jimmy Connors, Roddick’s advisor.

Federer won every major this season except the French Open, moving closer to Pete Sampras’ grand total of 14.

Facing a player known for a big serve, Federer outserved him — firing 17 aces without a double-fault, while Roddick had seven aces and one double-fault.

“I’m shocked myself how well it’s been going,” Federer said, “being not only compared to former great tennis players, but now especially also other great athletes all over sports. It’s just really nice.”

Federer pleased himself by putting on a quite a show for Woods, who flew up from Florida just to see this match.

They had missed meeting at events in Shanghai and Dubai, and Woods told Federer he’d come to Flushing Meadows if he made the final.

“When I go out there and I see Tiger sitting there, it’s like, I try to play well, you know? I try to kind of get my act together and focus and get off to a good start,” Federer said.

Federer took control early against the 2003 US Open champ, winning the first five games in only 17 minutes. At that point, there seemed little doubt that he would improve to 11-1 lifetime against the ninth-seeded Roddick.

“Roger is at the top, and he’s the only person at the top, regardless of how much people want to make rivalry comparisons and this, that and the other,” Roddick said. “He’s the best player in the game. There’s no question in my mind.”

The No 1-ranked Federer went 27-1 at this year’s Grand Slam tournaments, his lone loss coming to Rafael Nadal for the French Open title. Federer became the first man since Ivan Lendl in 1985-87 to win three consecutive US Open titles, and the only man to win Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back three years in a row.

Beaten in the first round of the US Open last year, Roddick made an outstanding run. But during the first set, Federer unleashed a 131 mph ace and Roddick bowed his head.

“You don’t want to get embarrassed out there, that’s for sure,” said Roddick of the pressures.

Roddick has never lost a set by 6-0 at a Slam event, though he was in danger of doing it as Federer tried to close the match. With the crowd cheering him, Roddick held serve to make it 5-1.

Moments later, Roddick was done. He was asked whether this version of Federer is better than the one who beat Roddick in the 2004 and 2005 Wimbledon finals.

“He’s improving,” said Roddick, “which is scary.”

Federer, meanwhile, was already looking ahead — to watching Woods in person. “I’m going to go to each Masters, each Grand Slam he plays and get him back,” he said, laughing. “I’m going to tell him I’m going to come when you’re about to win a major, when you’re out on the 18th green, I’ll be standing there.”

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