NEW YORK (Reuters) - The footwork was precise, the touch was sublime, the impeccable Swiss timing was back and Roger Federer glided away with a fifth successive U.S. Open crown on Monday.
After a year of disappointments and setbacks, Federer protected his aura of invincibility at Flushing Meadows in devastating style, handing Andy Murray a 6-2 7-5 6-2 masterclass.
While Murray’s hopes of ending Britain’s 72-year wait for a men’s grand slam champion were dashed, Federer clutched major trophy number 13.
Once Murray had dumped a weary backhand into the net, Federer celebrated his first grand slam win of 2008 by sinking to his knees, rolling over on to his back and covering his eyes with his hands.
“One thing for sure, I‘m not going to stop at 13. That would be terrible,” a beaming Federer, who now trails Pete Sampras’s overall record by just one, said courtside.
The triumph breathed new life into what had been a frustrating season for the Swiss master. It started with a bout of glandular fever and continued with a semi-final loss at the Australian Open before morale-sapping final defeats at the French Open and Wimbledon. He also lost his number one status.
Monday’s victory finally eased those painful memories.
“It definitely feels great. This is a very special moment in my career,” world number two Federer said after sealing his 34th successive match win at Flushing Meadows.
“I had a couple of tough grand slams this year, finishing in semi-finals and two finals, one epic at Wimbledon,” said Federer, who was beaten at the French and Wimbledon finals by Rafael Nadal.
“So to take this one home is incredible. It means the world to me. I played great. I felt like I was invincible for a while again and that’s exactly how you want to finish a tournament.”
The triumph was certainly incredible because the man who already owns a stockpile of records added yet another one to his vast collection.
His run in New York after previously stringing together five straight Wimbledon titles from 2003 to 2007 made him the only player to have won five in a row at two different slams.
While Federer can let out a sigh of relief for rescuing his season, a rather scruffy looking Murray can look forward to a close shave for the first time in two weeks.
The superstitious Scot had stopped shaving during his six-match winning run at Flushing Meadows and a razor is likely to be on top of his duty free shopping list after he picked up the biggest check of his career, a cool $1 million.
Although he fell one match short of adding the men’s title to the junior crown he won four years ago, Murray conceded he had been outwitted in every department.
“I’ve got a lot of improving to do if I want to win one of these tournaments,” said the sixth seed, who had beaten Nadal in a rain-disrupted encounter to reach his first grand slam final.
“I came up against, in my opinion, the best player ever to play the game. I got the better of him the last two times we played. He definitely set the record straight today.”
Bad weather forced the men’s final into the third Monday of the tournament for the first time since 1987.
While that was good news for Federer, who walked on court having enjoyed an almost 50 hours of rest, Murray was back in the Arthur Ashe Stadium less than 24 hours after beating Nadal.
It took Federer 20 minutes to take advantage of his fresher pair of legs. He sent Murray on the run in the sixth game of the opening set, and three successive errors from the 21-year-old handed the second seed the break.
A gusting wind swirling around the arena only added to Murray’s woes and in just 27 minutes the first set had flashed by, a backhand sailing wide to hand Federer another break.
Federer capitalized on his advantage to charge 2-0 ahead in the second set but Murray suddenly found his range and started sprinkling Federer’s territory with winners to level at 2-2.
That galvanized the Briton and he had Federer running scared when he went up 0-40 on the Swiss’s serve in the fifth game.
However, Federer was fortunate not to be broken when, trailing 15-40, one of his shots landed long. The linesman failed to call it out and Murray, lacking conviction, opted not to halt the lengthy rally to challenge the point using Hawkeye technology.
Murray produced the error to give Federer a second chance and the 27-year-old Swiss duly held serve.
Displaying the tennis that has become his hallmark -- but unsighted for much of this year -- Federer conjured a dazzling array of backhand, forehand and volley winners to claim four successive points and break Murray again for the set.
A cry of “We love you Roger” echoed around the Ashe arena and Federer responded by lifting his game in the third set.
A weary Murray managed to win only three points as the Swiss stormed 5-0 up before the Scot rallied briefly to foil Federer’s first attempt at serving out for the championship. One game later, though, he ran out of puff.
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes