Federer goes undefeated again to win 2004 Masters Cup in Houston (11/04)

    Roger Federer is starting to make it look easy especially against the Top Ranked players.  After going 5-0 for the second year in a row and defeated Lleyton Hewitt in the Finals at the Westside Tennis Club in Houston, Texas, Federer finished a stellar season winning 11 tournaments this year.  He has also won his last 13 Finals he has appeared in.  He also went an astonishing 18-0 vs. Top 10 players this year and compiled the best winning record (74-6) since Ivan Lendl had the same record in 1986.

The Masters Cup finals move to Shanghai, China for at least the next few years after a 2 year run in Houston.  The Stadium in Shanghai is going to be state of the art with a retractable roof and much bigger seating capacity for more revenue/ticket sales. 

The whole Houston tournament was filled with rain.  I sat through most all the matches until they were suspended or postponed.  It became frustrating for the fans and players to endure such long delays but there was nothing anyone could do except dry the courts as quick as possible with special blow-drying machines.  It became so nasty the last day I was there that the Finals were not only delayed but changed from 3 out of 5 to 2 out of 3 sets.  It may have save Hewitt some more whipping as Federer manhandled him.

The tournament was comprised of the top 8 players in the world unless someone else wins a Grand Slam tournament and finishes in the top 20, which is what happened.  Players included Federer, Hewitt, Carlos Moya (The Spaniard lost to Federer and Hewitt and was eliminated but had a great year and now will get ready for the Davis Cup Finals in early January vs. the USA in Spain; and Gaston Gaudio in the Red Group and Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, Tim Henman, and Guillermo Coria in the Blue Group.  Everyone plays each other in their own group and the top 2 in each division advance to the semi finals where the #1 Red Group player plays the #2 Blue Group player and visa versa. So Federer played Safin (The tough Russian and former US Open Champ coming off an up and down year. He started strong losing in the finals to Federer at the Australian Open and playing well before tailing off through the middle of the year. Finally finishing well winning a couple of Masters Tournaments securing his way to Houston.)  Federer won the first set handily but the second set was an epic. Safin gave it all he had and there was some spectacular shot making. Safin finally lost 20-18 in the tie-breaker.

In the other semi final, Roddick seemed confident that he would face Federer in the finals winning his first 3 matches.  Two of them were tough vs. Safin and Henman as he won 3 of his 4 sets in tie breakers.  Hewitt frustrated Roddick getting many of his shots back forcing Roddick to many unforced errors and serving problems.  Roddick still finished #2 in the end of the year rankings when Hewitt lost in the finals which put him at #3.  Roddick will now prepare for his tough encounter on clay in Spain for the Davis Cup Final.

In regards to the other players, Henman lost also to Safin and was eliminated.  Henman had a great year and finished in the top 10 for the fourth time in the last five years despite not winning at ATP tournament this year.  He is also still looking for his first Grand Slam Championship and advanced far this year reaching the semi finals at the French and US Open and quarter finals of Wimbledon (He has reached at least the quarters at Wimbledon 8 of the last 9 years). Coria came back from a shoulder injury that clearly hampered his serve and power. One of the fastest players on tour and best on clay, he reached the finals of French Open this year and was ahead 2 sets to 0 vs. Gaudio before tapering off and cramping up.  He had early season success on the clay and secured his second straight Masters Cup berth but fell short losing all 3 of his matches in straight sets.  Speaking of Gaudio #10 in the world coming into Houston; He came out of nowhere to somehow win the French and advance to the Masters Cup despite not finishing in the top 8 because of the rule mentioned earlier. That was his only tournament victory of the year.  He ended up losing all 3 matches as well in straight sets. Not a great tournament for the Argentines. Guillermo Canas, also from Argentina, who finished #11 in the rankings and was the alternate because Agassi-#8 and countryman David Nalbandian-#9, were both injured and not available.

In Doubles, The Bryan Brothers did it again and won the Masters Cup Finals and secured the #2 team in the world behind Mark Knowles and David Nestor even though they eliminated them in a one-sided semi final victory here.  They defeated Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett, both from Zimbabwe, in a 4 set thriller that had many chest bumps to liven the crowd and pump themselves up.

Except for the Davis Cup participants, all the players will have time to rest up and start off the year with the First Grand Slam at the Australian Open in mid January with a few smaller tournaments before including Auckland and Sydney to name a few. Those are always good primer tournaments heading into the first Grand Slam and to see if anyone can compete with the Swiss #1 Federer.  More great tennis to come next year