Vol. 5 Num 70 Thu. August 05, 2004  

Hrbaty halts Federer

Defending champion Andy Roddick saved himself from a similar fate as Roger Federer with a come-from-behind 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 win over Max Mirnyi Tuesday at the Cincinnati tennis.

Earlier in the day world No. 1 Roger Federer's 23-match winning streak was snapped by Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia in a first-round match of the 2.4 million dollar ATP event.

Hrbaty defeated Federer 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 to dent the Swiss player's hopes of becoming the first player since Pete Sampras in 1999 to win 24 consecutive matches.

The loss also ends his streak of winning four consecutive tournament titles at Halle, Wimbledon, Gstaad and Toronto.

"Maybe it was one tournament too much for me," Federer said. "I'm not disappointed. No one should feel sorry for me. I had a great run and now the streak has ended."

Roddick is looking to become just the third player to successfully defend his title here, following Michael Chang in 1994 and Andre Agassi in 1996.

"It was frustrating feeling like I was hitting the ball well and I couldn't get my feet into it the match," Roddick said.

Roddick has now won 22 of his last 24 matches with both losses coming to Federer -- in the finals at Wimbledon and Toronto.

The match was of high quality with Roddick and Mirnyi both weighing in with 56 winners in the two hour, 18-minute match. The difference came in the surprisingly low unforced error count with Mirnyi posting 19 unforced errors to 11 for Roddick.

For Roddick, who will head to the US Open to defend a Grand Slam title for the first time in his career at the end of the month, it's his mental attitude that sees him through close encounters of this kind.

"I have a deeper confidence now," Roddick said. "I don't panic as much when I'm down in a match. He had the momentum going with him but I knew if I'd get a chance to create an opportunity, maybe, I can take it."

Despite the defeat, Federer leads the tour with eight titles this year, dating back to his Australian Open win in January.

For the 21st-ranked Hrbaty it improves his record against world number ones to 4-2, having beaten Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Andre Agassi, Marat Safin and now Federer when they were the top ranked players.

"I was a little bit more relaxed," said Hrbaty, who has won three titles this year.

"I think what happens, maybe, when you're playing a little down, you can beat the players you don't think you can beat."

Federer appeared in typical form in the first set, breaking Hrbaty in the fourth game when the Slovakian smacked a forehand into the net.

Another service break in the sixth game gave Federer with a commanding 5-1 lead and he closed it out with an ace on set point in the next game.

But Hrbaty refused to surrender.

In the tiebreaker Hrbaty finally converted on his third set point converting on the final one when the Swiss swatted a backhand long.

"It was a pity," Federer said. "I had many chances especially in the second set. I played really well the first set and a half. In the beginning, he was giving me quite a few points, but in the third set he wasn't."

In another upset Tuesday, 12th-seeded Sebastien Grosjean squandered a one-set lead to lose to Robin Soderling of Sweden 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round.

It was a first meeting against the 47th-ranked Soderling, Grosjean was clearly willing to put the surprise loss aside since there's still a long summer ahead with the Olympics, US Open and Davis Cup semi-final against Spain still to be played.

"It's really tough but it's that way for all the players," said Grosjean, of his upcoming schedule. "There's many long tournaments ahead and that's difficult physically."

Fifth seed Tim Henman took advantage of Younes El Aynaoui's first appearance since the Australian Open, steamrolling the Moroccan 6-1, 6-0 in 51-minutes.

Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty plays a backhand against Roger Federer of Switzerland at the Cincinnati Masters tennis tournament on August 3. PHOTO: AFP