Federer's becoming the next tennis legend

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The amazing Roger Federer is well on his way to flying in rarified air, as he continues to blaze his way through the ATP.

The two-time Wimbledon champion just added the U.S. Open title to his ever- expanding trophy case...and he did it in resounding fashion.

The world No. 1 "Fed" became the first man in 16 years to corral three Grand Slam victories in one calendar year. He opened his season with his first-ever victory at the Australian Open; added a second Wimbledon title to his resume in early July; and romped through the field at Flushing Meadows, culminating with a lopsided win over a seemingly-unstoppable Lleyton Hewitt, giving him a fourth major championship in his last six tries.

Hewitt had been playing the best tennis of anybody over a four-to-five-week span, posting a runner-up finish to the great Andre Agassi in Cincinnati before reeling off back-to-back hardcourt titles in Washington, D.C. and Long Island and going 6-0 at America's Open.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with his US Open trophy in New York's Times Square.

But then along came Federer.

The elegant Swiss tattooed Hewitt in straight sets, including a pair of bagels this past Sunday, wowing on-lookers at Arthur Ashe Stadium with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 pasting of the typically-fiery Aussie. No man had posted a pair of bagel set wins in the Open final in 120 years, not since Dick Sears beat Howie Taylor 6-0, 1-6, 6-0, 6-2 in '84...1884! That's impressive.

The Fed won the first eight games of the match before being tested over the remainder of the second set. But once it reached the third, it was all over but the crying for the former world No. 1 and 2001 Open champion Hewitt, who also succumbed to the brilliant Swiss star at this year's Aussie Open (fourth round) and Wimbledon (quarters) extravaganzas.

Surprisingly, Federer headed into the U.S. Open having lost two of his last three matches, including a shocking setback against promising Czech Tomas Berdych at the Summer Games in Athens. Obviously the Fed will have to wait at least another four years to claim a gold medal for Switzerland.

Aside from a shell-shocked Hewitt, Federer dismissed six other men in Flushing, including 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, the legendary Agassi (quarters) and popular Brit Tim Henman (semis).

He's starting to leave a trail of tennis history in his wake.

The 23-year-old became the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win three majors in one year, and the first man to claim Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same season since his idol, 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras, turned the trick in 1995. Only Federer, Wilander, Rod Laver (1969) and Jimmy Connors (1974) have won three of the four majors in one year since the Open Era began in 1968.

Federer has already clinched the 2004 ATP Champions Race title and the year-end No. 1 ranking, posting the earliest-ever "lock" on both lists. The world rankings were established in 1973.

Federer may not be "Mr. Excitement" when it comes to television viewership (lowest-ever rating for a men's U.S. Open final), but anyone who follows the sport knows he probably possesses the most talent to ever step on a tennis court. The formidable serve; an underrated return; that monster forehand; a still-improving backhand; speed and athleticism; creative shotmaking; an all- court game, etc., etc.

He's so good, he doesn't even need a coach (parted with Peter Lundgren prior to the start of '04).

You could argue a case the Federer is the most dominant athlete within his sport in the world right now. I know I would.

The 6-foot-1 Basel native has already piled up nine titles and just under $5 million in prize money ($4,753,222) this year. His U.S. Open check alone was worth a cool $1 million. FYI, Austrian dirtballer Thomas Muster owns the record with 12 titles in one year (1995).

Federer's an incredible 64-6 in '04, including his 300th career match victory on Sunday (300-116). His "Big Apple" run also gave him his 20th career title.

Federer's 64-6 mark is the best on the ATP circuit since Ivan Lendl went 79-6 in 1989, a year that Lendl ended at 79-7 after losing to Stefan Edberg at the ATP Masters in New York.

The unassuming Federer owns a sizzling 91.4 percent win-loss record in '04, and, if maintained, he'd become the first player in ATP history (since 1990) to post a season win-loss mark above .900. He's a remarkable 12-0 against top-10 competition this year and is trying to become the first player to go undefeated against fellow top-10 players in one season. His overall winning streak against top-10 performers currently stands at 17.

He's also a perfect 4-0 in his career Grand Slam finals, becoming the first man to win his first four major title matches. Federer has won his last 11 finals overall since losing to Czech Jiri Novak in Gstaad last year, the week after he captured his first Wimbledon crown.

When Federer attempts to defend his Masters Cup title in Houston in November, he'll try to join Hewitt (2001-02), Sampras (1996-97), John McEnroe (1983-84), Lendl (1981-82, 1985-87), Bjorn Borg (1979-80) and Ilie Nastase (1971-73) as repeat winners of the prestigious championship.

What's it gonna take to stop the mighty Swiss? Your guess is as good as mine since he's in a league all his own right now. It's okay to start drawing the comparisons to the likes of Sampras, Laver and Borg (with honorable mentions to McEnroe, Lendl and Connors).

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Scott Riley
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