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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Men’s field takes aim at Federer

John Pye Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi knew they needed to do something drastic. Roger Federer was winning practically every tournament, and the gap between him and everyone else in men’s tennis was growing.

Roddick, ranked No. 2, switched coaches. He ended an 18-month association with Brad Gilbert that had produced his first major title, joining former U.S. Davis Cup coach Dean Goldfine and overhauling his practice regimen.

Hewitt, ranked No. 3, bulked up his upper body, hoping it might help him end a six-match losing string to Federer that included the final of the U.S. Open and season-ending Masters Cup.

“Roger has taken the game to a new level,” said Hewitt, the former U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion who at one time led Federer 6-1 head-to-head.

Agassi tuned his 34-year-old body like never before, looking to gain whatever edge he could when he next meets the top-ranked Swiss player. Agassi, however, hurt his hip during a tuneup match against Roddick and it’s unclear if he will play when the Australian Open begins Monday at Melbourne Park.

Federer won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open among his 11 titles in 2004, becoming the first man since Mats Wilander in 1988 to capture three of the four majors in one season.

Adding another title last week at Qatar — his 23rd — he improved his winning streak in tour finals to 14 and stretched his winning run to 21 consecutive matches.

“To finish No. 1 and the way he did it is an incredible effort, but it’s also become the standard that everybody is trying to push for,” said Agassi, an eight-time major champion. “I’m thankful for those that make us better, and Roger definitely does that.”

Federer is flattered by the attention, but he’s not letting it distract him from his goal for 2005 — start with an Australian Open title and finish with the No. 1 ranking.

“In a way, I enjoy it, to get so many compliments,” Federer said. “I had such a great season last year — I guess like nobody had in 15 or 20 years — so it’s normal that right away everybody compares me to the all-time greats. Now it’s up to me to prove it and to be up there for a long time.”

To remain on top, Federer decided he also needed to change. He worked with a coach for the first time in a year, spending two weeks in Sydney with former Australian Davis Cup coach Tony Roche. He thinks a few tweaks already have improved his game.

That’s probably not what Agassi and company wanted to hear. After shedding 10 pounds to drop into the mid-160s and building his strength and conditioning, Agassi was primed for a shot at a fifth Australian title. Now he’s at risk of having to join an injured list that includes former Wimbledon and U.S. Open finalist Mark Philippoussis and three of the top 10 women, and possibly more.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport was one of five players who pulled out of the Sydney International on Thursday. Last year’s champion, Justine Henin-Hardenne, and the runner-up, Kim Clijsters, didn’t make it either.