Roger Federer beats James Blake, becomes fifth-youngest to win 50 career tournaments

By: JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
By: JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer

MASON, Ohio (AP) -- Roger Federer raised both arms triumphantly when his ace finished it off. After years of having everyone else's number, he had a special one of his own.

Fifty for Federer.

The Swiss star reached another measure of tennis greatness on Sunday, winning his 50th tournament title by beating James Blake 6-1, 6-4 in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters.

At age 26, he became the fifth-youngest player to reach 50, and only the ninth overall in the Open Era -- since 1968 -- to win so many tournaments.

"It's not a goal I set for myself in my career, but it's definitely a nice number to get to, especially in terms of titles," Federer said. "It's really a lot, you know, so it's great."

There could be a lot more to come. Given the way he played on Sunday, nobody would be surprised if the U.S. Opens winds up being 51. The higher the stakes, the better he plays.

Federer struggled early in the week and needed a pair of three-set victories to reach the title match against Blake, a 27-year-old American playing in only his second Masters Series championship.

Once Federer got there, he was vintage.

"Just about everything he does is pretty impressive," Blake said. "So, yeah, 50 titles at any age is impressive. Fifty titles at 26 is incredible."

Federer almost got the noteworthy win a week earlier in Montreal, where he lost the title match to Novak Djokovic in a third-set tiebreaker. This time, he was determined to get it.

Dressed in all-white on a muggy, 92-degree afternoon, Federer extended his mastery of Blake -- and all Americans, for that matter.

Federer improved to 7-0 against Blake, who has won only one of their 19 sets -- off a tiebreaker in the semifinals at the U.S. Open last year. He's not the only hard-hitting American who can't figure out how to handle's Federer's overall excellence.

Federer has won 35 straight matches against Americans since he lost to Andy Roddick in the semifinals at Montreal on Aug. 9, 2003. During that span, different Americans have risen and fallen, but none has broken through.

"He's good enough to find just about any which way to beat you," Blake said. "There's always something for him to fall back on."

Blake was playing catch-up from the start. Federer served a pair of aces to open the match, then broke Blake's serve in the next game to take control. Blake had three break chances in the fifth game of the opening set, which lasted 20 points and ended with Federer's emphatic forehand volley.

Opponents rarely get such chances against Federer. Deflated that he let it slip away, Blake was broken at 0-40 in the next game.

Blake was on the defensive the rest of the way. Federer broke him to go up 4-3, then fought off a couple of break points in the next game to retain control.

Finally, he served his ninth ace of the match to win the title that was, in his words, "a very special number."

Bjorn Borg won his 50th title when he was 23 years, 7 months old. Jimmy Connors was four months older when he got to the mark. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl were 25 when they did it.

The crystal trophy that he received on court will wind up in his home in Oberwil, Switzerland, where he has a special room -- "It's grown to about office size" -- to display those 50-plus mementos. They're kept behind glass "so you don't have to dust them off all the time," Federer noted.

Gives him more time to work on dusting off the competition.

In recent years, the Cincinnati tournament has been a good barometer heading into the U.S. Open. Federer won it easily two years ago, then went on to get the second of his U.S. Open titles.

Last year, Roddick emerged from his season-long funk in Cincinnati, won the tournament and took a lot of confidence into the Open, where he reached the title match before losing to Federer.

Federer has momentum in his quest for a fourth straight U.S. Open title, but there's reason for others to see opportunity. Federer wasn't in peak form this week, making a lot of unforced errors. He needed three sets to beat Nicolas Almagro and resurgent Lleyton Hewitt to reach the title match.

Using that as a guide, this Open could be more wide-open.

Or, if Sunday is an indication, it might end up as another addition to that glassed-in trophy case.

"A lot of people have tried to say at times that he looks beatable, then he goes out and shows that he's not beatable," Blake said. "Then he goes into a Grand Slam and he plays even better."


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