Nalbandian Clinches Masters

SHANGHAI (AP)–Even David Nalbandian was impressed with the way he beat Roger Federer in the finals of the Masters Cup. Nalbandian–the Armenian tennis player from Argentina–was not even supposed to play in China this weekend.

The 23-year-old didn’t qualify automatically for the season-ending event. Ranked 12th–Nalbandian was drafted into the eight-man draw when third-ranked Andy Roddick pulled out with an injured back.

He had to cancel a planned fishing trip to play in the Master’s Cup–where Roddick was one of five leading players who withdrew either before or right at the start of the tournament.

Nalbandian lost the first two sets and then trailed 30-0 with Federer serving for the match in the fifth set–before ending the top-ranked player’s streak of 24 straight finals wins and handing him just his fourth loss of the year–6-7 (4)–6-7 (11)–6-2–6-2–7-6 (3) Sunday.

"It’s really incredible–these kind of matches in the finals against the Number 1 [tennis player] of the world," Nalbandian said. "He didn’t lose many matches during the year. So it’s really important."

After playing a tough game and almost losing to Federer–Nalbandian said–"It’s not easy to keep focused–but I made it."

Nalbandian earned $1.4 million for winning and improved his year-end ranking to a career-high Number 6.

The surprising win came a week after he lost to the Swiss star in the opening round-robin match here and 20 hours after Federer beat another Argentine–Gaston Gaudio–6-0–6-0 in the semifinals.

Federer was on a memorable roll: 35 straight wins; the all-time best unbeaten stretch in 24 finals; and an 81-3 record in 2005–one win short of John McEnroe’s Open era record for best winning percentage in a men’s season.

Nalbandian wasted three set points in the second tiebreaker–and then changed his sweat-soaked black shirt for a fresh red one. That’s when things changed.

He knew Federer wasn’t match fit after spending six weeks on the sidelines with an injured right ankle–so he developed a special game plan to keep his rival running.

"I know that he wasn’t 100 percent–his preparation wasn’t the perfect one," he said. "I feel in the beginning of the third when he play not so good–that I had my chance in there. I had to keep going–to keep fighting–and play the most important match of the year. I left everything on court."

Nalbandian didn’t mind that Federer had the Shanghai crowd right behind him–urging him on.

"That’s normal–he’s the Number 1," he said.

Nalbandian didn’t expect much attention after being a late addition in the tournament.

"I think I surprised all the world–because beating (Federer)–with that record–Number 1 of the world … it’s really incredible," said Nalbandian

Nalbandian said he’d learned from his lopsided loss in the 2002 Wimbledon final to Lleyton Hewitt–his biggest previous match in tennis.

"It’s very–very important. When I played Hewitt in the Wimbledon finals–I was 20 years old–different," he said. "I was a little bit nervous–and I couldn’t play my best. It makes me feel special to win like this. Of course–for the next time–very important matches or big momen’s–I will be different on court."

Nalbandian said he obviously had no regrets about not going fishing.

Besides–as the translator at Nalbandian’s post-match news conference said–"he caught a big enough fish today–Roger Federer."

Federer injured his right ankle the week after ensuring the year-end Number 1 ranking with his 11th title of the year on October 2 in Thailand.

Along with Roddick–second-ranked Rafael Nadal–Number 4 Hewitt–Number 5 Andre Agassi and Australian Open champion Marat Safin also withdrew either before or right at the start of the tournament.

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