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Federer, Henin steal Open spotlight

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Well, that's another U.S. Open under the belt, and what did we learn over the last two weeks? We learned that Roger Federer and Justine Henin are clearly at the top of their profession.

All Federer did was capture his fourth straight U.S. Open title, which makes him the only man to do so in the Open Era (1968). He also appeared in a record 10th straight Grand Slam final, with the next closest man to that figure being Aussie Jack Crawford, from way back in the 1930s.

Federer is also the first player ever to corral Wimbledon and the U.S. Open back-to-back in four straight years.

Astounding.

The amazing Swiss pulled ahead of Swedish icon Bjorn Borg and Aussie legend Rod Laver and into a tie with Aussie great Roy Emerson with his 12th major title, and now only American Pete Sampras stands in his way at the top of record book. Sampras, himself a five-time U.S. Open winner, owns a whopping 14 Grand Slam singles titles, with his last one coming in New York five years ago. "Pistol" Pete, however, never won four straight U.S. Opens...or even three straight, for that matter.

By this time next year, the "Fed" could head into the U.S. Open with a chance to break Sampras' mark.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer is the first man in the Open Era to win the U.S. Open four straight years.
"I think about it a lot now," Federer said. "In the beginning, I felt pushed a little bit in the corner, put under pressure about the situation because you don't win Slams like that, it's just too tough. I feel these two-and-a-half weeks, it's so draining. I'm exhausted in the end. It's a great relief, just to finally maybe have a good night's sleep without thinking about the upcoming five-setter I have to play. So I know how tough it is. So to come so close already at my age is fantastic, and I really hope to break it."

Federer has won the last five Wimbledons, the last four U.S. Opens and has secured two straight and three of the last four Aussie Open titles.

His win in Flushing was also worth a record $2.4 million, as the first- place check came in at $1.4 million, and he pocketed an additional $1 million on top of that thanks to his first-place finish in the U.S. Open Series.

Not to be outdone, Henin appeared in her third U.S. Open finale in five years, and corralled her second victory, with the other coming in 2003. The 2006 runner-up to Maria Sharapova cruised through the '07 Flushing fortnight without even dropping a set, and brushed aside 2004 titlist Svetlana Kuznetsova in last Saturday night's lopsided title bout. The final marked a rematch of last year's championship match at Roland Garros, also won by the nifty Belgian in straight sets.

Henin used a dazzling array of forehands and that gorgeous one-handed backhand in order to become the first woman to beat both Serena and Venus Williams in the same Grand Slam event, as she tackled Serena in the quarters and Venus in the semis, both in straight sets, of course. The top half of the women's draw was loaded in New York, with five of the top-six contenders residing there.

It didn't matter to the former JH-H.

Justine Henin
Justine Henin now owns seven major titles, including a pair of U.S. Open championships.
At her post-match news conference after losing to Henin, Serena said Henin "hit a lot of lucky shots." Hmmm. And Venus said that dizziness played a factor in her loss against the determined Belgian. Hmmm.

And it wasn't a very good tournament for the 2006 women's champ, as Sharapova was shocked by rising Pole Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round in Week 1 in a much weaker bottom half of the draw. The 2007 Aussie Open runner-up to Serena, Sharapova tumbled hard in all four majors this year, as she was pasted by Serena in the Aussie Open finale; was whipped by Ana Ivanovic in the French Open semis; was throttled by the eventual champion Venus in the fourth round at Wimbledon; and was knocked out by Radwanska in the round of 32 in NYC.

Ouch!

The '07 U.S. Open will also be remembered for its sparkling weather, as not one drop of rain fell during the two weeks of play, with sunshine dominating the show from start to finish. A far cry from last year, as inclement weather plagued the fortnight.

This year's Open also showed us just how talented 20-year-old Serbian Novak Djokovic is, as the world No. 3 soared all the way into the final before losing to Federer in three tightly-contested sets. The first two sets went to tiebreaks, and the young Serb blew five set points in the first stanza and failed to convert on two more in the second as Federer would continue his masterful march into tennis history, despite not playing with his typical Swiss watch precision.

Djokovic reached at least the semifinals in his last three majors of 2007, with the U.S. Open marking his first-ever Grand Slam final.

And the women's draw featured plenty of strong play from a bevy of teenagers, as 18-year-old Hungarian Agnes Szavay charged all the way into the quarters, and the likes of Radwanska (18), rapidly-rising Austrian Tamira Paszek (16) and Belarusian Victoria Azarenka (18) all landed in the round of 16 in the "Big Apple."

In the consolation prize department, the fourth-round loser Azarenka did pair with Max "The Beast" Mirnyi to capture the mixed doubles championship at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Novak Djokovic
Runner-up Novak Djokovic reached at least the semifinals in the year's last three Grand Slam events.
Go Vicki!

We did, however, fail to get another enticing Federer-Rafael Nadal Grand Slam final, as the powerful Spaniard was doused in the fourth round by his countryman David Ferrer, who ultimately wound up in the semis, only to lose to the surging Djokovic. And in all fairness to the reigning three-time French Open champion and two-time Wimbledon runner-up Nadal, he was plagued by injuries, most notably patella tendinitis in his aching knees.

Last year, Federer beat American crowd favorite Andy Roddick in the U.S. Open final, and this year, the two played a high-quality quarterfinal affair last week, won by the superb Swiss in straights. Roddick pushed Federer to a pair of tiebreaks in the first two sets, but the air seemed to come out of Roddick's balloon when Federer prevailed for a commanding two-sets-to-none advantage.

Roddick tore the cover off the ball that night, striking 42 winners while committing 24 unforced errors, and averaged 130 mph on his serve, but he still failed to take a set.

By the way, since becoming the world No. 1 star in 2004, Federer, who appears to be well on his way to owning every record in this great sport, is a combined 56-0 at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon (28-0 at each event).

Federer, who's now 12-2 in his Grand Slam finals, also extended his record by winning three of the four Slams for a second straight year and for a third time in four seasons. His only setbacks in major finals during that time came against Nadal at the last two French Opens. The sublime Swiss is 12-0 in Grand Slam finals not played on crushed red brick and has won 12 of the last 18 majors since mid-2003.

Simply awesome.

The small but mighty Henin now owns seven major titles, including three straight and four of the last five French Open crowns, and she's appeared in the final in six of her last seven major events, including all four Grand Slam finals last season (1-3). The vastly-talented 5-foot-5 Belgian is now 7-4 in her 11 major finales.

"When I was a little girl, I was dreaming of winning just one Grand Slam in my career, and I won seven," Henin said. "It's still hard to believe that I did that. All these numbers that are talking to me, that give me a lot of confidence. It's more than a dream. I gave everything for tennis for 20 years, and it's going to be like that for the next few years. Just going to try to enjoy a lot my game on the court, win as many matches as possible, and just staying healthy. We'll see what's going to happen."

Federer and Henin also became the first pair of top seeds to both run the table at the Open since Sampras and Steffi Graf combined to turn the trick 11 years ago. The top seeds had never combined for a pair of titles at the vast Ashe Stadium, which opened in 1997.

The '07 Open also set a record by becoming the highest-attended annual sporting event in history, with more than 700,000 entering the grounds over the two-week period.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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