10th Grand Slam singles title within Federer's reach

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MELBOURNE, Australia - Roger Federer has beaten Fernando Gonzalez on clay in Monte Carlo, Hamburg and at the French Open; on grass at Wimbledon; carpet in Basel; and four times on hard courts.

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Gonzalez  Associated Press
Associated Press
Gonzalez

It adds up to 9-for-9 as Federer goes into today's Australian Open final a heavy favorite for his 10th win in a row over Gonzalez.

That also makes him a favorite to secure his 10th career Grand Slam singles title, moving him within four of Pete Sampras' leading total.

Federer said Saturday he's wary of Gonzalez, who beat former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 5 James Blake and No. 2 Rafael Nadal en route to the final. And the Chilean player's semifinal win over Tommy Haas was so overpowering that Haas admitted all he could do was watch.

"I think it's going to be a tough match," Federer said. "Usually when you play against Fernando, you always know it's going to be dangerous because he's got the ability to suddenly steamroll. He's been very consistent, very impressive."

Gonzalez, who had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in 23 previous Grand Slams, is optimistic he has improved enough to push the dazzling Federer, who hasn't lost a set in the tournament so far. Gonzalez had only three unforced errors in his win over Haas.

"I'm playing much better than the last time we played," he said. "I've never beaten him, I don't have an advantage with Roger. But in tennis, you always have a new opportunity."

Federer will be playing in his seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, tying a record set by Jack Crawford in 1934, and his 11th total.

The Swiss star also has come up against an unexpected finalist before - last year here against Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus.

"I'm surprised to see Fernando in the finals, not anything against him, but I thought that like a (Nikolay) Davydenko or Nadal would have come through in the end," Federer said.

"I thought Marcos was never going to make the final, and I ended up playing against a player that I'm a huge favorite. This time around maybe I'm not that big a favorite ... (but) I'm used to all situations."

Gonzalez has improved in the past year under new coach Larry Stefanki, who previously coached John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov. His already strong forehand has become more potent, his backhand is no longer exploited by his opponents, and he has become more patient with his shotmaking.

"I've worked a lot on my net game," the 10th-seeded Gonzalez said. "I can go in, I can slice. I can do all the things that I never did before."

Federer, who is on a 30-match winning streak on hard courts, has noticed.

"I could already see it coming last year, he was starting to play better and better," he said.

"More patient from the baseline ... a bit more smart, whereas in the beginning he was just coming out and swinging on everything."

Haas thinks the final will be competitive.

"If he (Gonzalez) can maintain the level he showed in the last couple of matches, the stats speak for themselves," Haas said after his loss. "If he can make very few unforced errors, play like he did tonight, I think it would be a good match."

Gonzalez hopes so.

"He's the No. 1 player in the world by far," the 26-year-old Chilean said. "It's only one match. I'm going to give everything that I have."


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