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Sunday, February 1, 2004
Federer showed why he's No. 1

By MaliVai Washington
Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Despite predicting Roger Federer to win, I did not expect him to win in straight sets over Marat Safin.

Except for the break of serve that Federer went down early in the first set, there was nothing in Safin's play during the final that would make one believe he had what it took to win this championship. Even after two days off, Safin seemed sluggish and a little flat. Even more, he seemed frustrated by Federer's versatile game.

Federer simply played exquisitely.

Either Federer or someone in his camp watched Safin's match against Andre Agassi. Safin-Agassi was a slugfest. The harder Agassi hit the ball, the more Safin thrived. He fed off that pace.

By contrast, Federer not only hit shots with pace, but he also mixed in off-pace shots, including his backhand slice, to alter Safin's rhythm.

Anyone who was watching now knows how to play Safin. Anyone who tries to trade groundstrokes and keep up with his pace probably won't succeed.

Federer had a specific game plan, and it worked perfectly. This victory showed why he is the best player in the world. Though it's very difficult to do, don't be surprised if Federer stays No. 1 for the entire year.

Winning the Australian Open for the first time, is a great accomplishment, and this is a surface Federer can win on multiple times. His win on Rebound Ace proves that he can win at the U.S. Open. It's just a matter of time before he does.

A bigger question: Will Federer win all four majors in his career? My answer: There's no reason why he should not become the sixth player in history to win all four Grand Slam titles.

MaliVai Washington, a tennis analyst for ESPN, reached the 1996 Wimbledon final.