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Brilliant Federer shines as storm clouds gather

sports Updated: Dec 16, 2007 22:22 IST

AFP
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Roger Federer goes into 2008 with his position as the greatest player of all time virtually assured but with the sport he represents so well fighting an unexpected battle to preserve its integrity.

Superlatives for Federer were exhausted a long time ago and 2007 saw the elegant and modest Swiss rack up statisics so formidable that his rivals must already be anticipating the new year with dread.

Successful defences of his Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns took the 26-year-old's Grand Slam tally to 12, just two shy of Pete Sampras's record of 14.

His 53rd career title came with a fourth Masters Cup triumph and he finished 2007 as the world number one player for the 200th consecutive week.

"I'm really happy. It's been in some ways a breakthrough year for me," said Federer, who finished the year with eight titles, a 68-9 record and whose triumph at a rain-sodden Wimbledon was his fifth in succession.

His win in the Shanghai season-ending tournament was even more remarkable after he had suffered three uncharacteristic defeats - twice to David Nalbandian and once to Fernando Gonzalez - as the year wound down.

In February, he eclipsed Jimmy Connors' 30-year record (160) for most consecutive weeks as world number one while at the US Open he became the first player in history to reach all four Grand Slam finals in back-to-back years.

Sampras, who lost a three-match exhibition series in Asia to the Swiss in November, has no doubt that his records will crumble.

"The major record, he's got so much time," said Sampras who held the top ranking for a record 286 weeks and finished as world number one for a record six consecutive years.

"He's 26 and he's got the next four years to be at the pinnacle of his career so I see him breaking that, if not next year, pretty soon."

As always, there is a spanner in Federer's Grand Slam works in the shape of Rafael Nadal.

The Spaniard finished the year again at number two having captured a third French Open title beating Federer in the final for the second successive year.

Nadal's win in the French capital also prevented the Swiss from becoming just the third man in history to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

Particuarly disappointing for Federer was that he had arrived in Paris having brought the Spaniard's record 81-match clay-court win streak to a halt just a few weeks' earlier in Hamburg.

It was the Mallorcan who came closest to pulling off a Grand Slam mugging when he pushed Federer all the way in an epic five-set Wimbledon final.

The Swiss celebrated a roller-coaster 7-6 (9/7) 4-6 7-6 (7/3) 2-6 6-2 win in the third longest final of all time.

But the year ended disappointingly for Nadal.

After electing to play a clay-court tournament in Stuttgart in the week after Wimbledon, his season petered out with worrying signs that his love of clay was wreaking havoc with his body.

His win in Germany was his sixth title of the year but it was also his last as he limped through the remainder of 2007.

He even had to issue a statement denying that a prolonged foot worry could spell an early end for one of the game's most scintillating talents.

"There's no reason for alarm. I tell you honestly that my career is not in danger," the 21-year-old said.

If Nadal's injury problems put the brakes on his high-speed game in 2008, there are other youngsters able to worry Federer.

Novak Djovokic finished the year at three in the world, collected five titles and beat Federer in the final of the Montreal Masters before succumbing to the champion in the final of the US Open.

Great things too are expected of Britain's Andy Murray while Andy Roddick will hope his faltering Grand Slam dreams will be reignited by having led the USA to a 32nd Davis Cup title.

As 2007 closed, tennis was facing up to the threat posed by the explosion in the internet gambling phenomenon with Russia's world number four Nikolay Davydenko probed after suspicious betting patterns emerged from a match he played at a low-key event in Poland in August.

The gaunt 26-year-old, his wife and brother have all been questioned after huge sums were bet on Argentine journeyman Martin Vassallo Arguello, who lost the first set but won the match when Davydenko retired injured.

Russian tennis will be glad to see the back of 2007.

As well as Davydenko's travails, officials had to deny any involvement in allegations of poisoning made by Germany's Tommy Haas in the Davis Cup semi-final.