Canas' comeback continues with second win over Federer

BUENOS AIRES -- "This is like a dream," said Guillermo Canas immediately after beating Roger Federer in Miami. It may look like a dream, but it is real: he has now defeated the undisputed world No. 1 for the second time in two weeks, both of them on hard court. In doing so, he has become the new black shadow of the Swiss master, and at the same time confirmed that his tennis resurrection is for real.

Victory this time came in the fourth round of the Masters Series event in Key Biscayne, Fla., after three hard-fought sets, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 7-6 (5).

Canas had already defeated Federer 7-5, 6-2 in the second round of Indian Wells -- the first match in the tournament for the top seed and the end of his 41-match winning streak. Federer was only six victories shy of Guillermo Vilas' 1977 record. But another "Willy" stood in his way.

In both cases, the European was defending the title, and the South American had to battle through the qualifying rounds -- he was even a lucky loser in Indian Wells.

Canas is now 3-1 head-to-head with Federer, with all matches having been played on hard courts. The Argentine had taken their first match in Toronto in 2002, another Master Series tournament, which he would end up winning. Federer took the next encounter in the Indian Wells semifinals in 2005 en route to the title.

Why is this mini-streak of victories so important? Because Federer, 25, already has 10 Grand Slam titles, 47 tournament wins and hadn't lost in the past seven months. He also won the Australian Open in January, and has reached the final in his last seven majors, winning six of them. And at 165, he currently holds the record for most consecutive weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.

But Canas seemed to be unimpressed by these figures and wrote his own history in these last 16 days.

Twice As Big

Canas has become only the second player to beat Federer more than once since he became the No. 1 player in the world -- that is, in the last three years. The other player is Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard who is currently the second best player in the ATP rankings, and has beaten him in six of their nine matchups.

There's more data worth highlighting: It is the first time since he became world No. 1 that Federer has lost against the same rival in two straight tournaments. In 2003, another Argentine, David Nalbandian, beat him in Cincinnati's second round and then in the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. But Federer wasn't No. 1 in the world back then. There are three coincidences: the succesive defeats were against Argentine players; in the same rounds; and in both cases, Federer only won a set in the second match.

How about the number of matches Federer lost on hard courts in 2006? Only two, against Nadal in the Dubai final and against Andy Murray of Great Britain in Cincinnati's second round. That's exactly the same number he has already lost in three months in 2007 … and both against Canas.

What about Canas? The Argentine currently has a low ranking (55) that is not true of his game, as he is clearly playing like a top 10.

"What is the key to beating the No. 1 player in the world twice? I really don't know," said Canas, who is very low-profile but very straight forward when it comes to talking to the press.

Canas always gives himself a chance at every ball, with a tenacity that has been his trademark as a player throughout his career. Against Federer, he had a similar game plan to the one Nadal displays, so it might not be a coincidence that both of them have had success against the Swiss.

Although they are different players -- Canas is right handed whereas Nadal is left-handed -- they always make their rivals hit an extra ball and they are always ready to launch thundering counter-attacks. Both get on the nerves of the usually super-cool Swiss, who gets anxious and makes more errors than usual.


At Indian Wells, Federer was not his usual self -- he even asked for a medical time out to take care of his swelling feet. Feeling uncomfortable and forcing his game, he made too many mistakes and lost in straight sets.

Key Biscayne was a whole different story. Federer started off erratic, but regrouped and played like the Federer we all expect. Still, it wasn't enough.

After Canas took the first set in a tiebreak, Federer improved and dominated the second chapter at will. When it seemed that he was in total control, there was a key moment in the match.

In the third game of the third set, Canas saved four break points that would have put the Swiss up 3-0. The Argentine fought back, then recovered a break and ended up winning the match in an electrifying tiebreaker.

Those are the points in which Federer usually thrives, the deciding ones. But this time it was Canas again who took them. He was also helped by another strange flaw in Federer: His forehand let him down and he committed costly errors. It was Federer's backhand that ended up being his best shot on Tuesday.

In regards to Canas, with the exception of the second set when he was outplayed, he confirmed the evolution of his serve and his backhand. Whenever he could, he tried to dictate play with his forehand, but he remained loyal to his typical counter-attacking style, with accurate passing shots on the run and nasty lobs.

Canas' physical condition also deserves credit. He kept on running after every single ball until the end of the match. And he was patient enough to be more resilient than his opponent who sometimes looks like a machine in making a habit of winning.


Canas' coach Gaston Etlis was ecstatic: "He deserves it more than anyone. Roger showed a superlative level during certain moments of the match, but then he got tired. I wish what happened to Willy never happens to anybody. He fought until the end and he deserves to celebrate.".

"Beating Federer once is hard, twice in two weeks is almost impossible. I am very happy for him," said his colleague Juan Ignacio Chela, who is also a quarterfinalist in Key Biscayne.

Federer had a clear take on what happened: "This is one of those matches that I should have never lost. It is hard for someone that doesn't lose much, but I am strong enough to keep this from getting to me. Canas is a great competitor and he doesn't make many mistakes. His serve and backhand are better than two years ago."

Canas is again living a dream. He won his seventh title in Costa do Sauipe last month and once again is part of the Argentine Davis Cup team. Now he has beaten Federer twice while the rest of the ATP Tour looks in awe and envy.

But, true to himself, he is ready to go for more.

Gustavo Goitia is ESPNdeportes.com's tennis columnist.