Gonzalez vows to go for broke against Federer

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – The logic goes like this: Fernando Gonzalez can beat Rafael Nadal, and Nadal has beaten Roger Federer. Why can’t Gonzalez upset Federer in the Australian Open final?

The facts go like this: Gonzalez is 0-9 against Federer.

Still, Gonzalez is not without hope Sunday against a No. 1 player who won three majors last year and is going for his 10th Grand Slam title.

Gonzalez has a strong forehand, plenty of nerve and a revitalized game under a new coach. He is ranked No. 10, and he’s not called Speedy for nothing.

Gonzalez overpowered Tommy Haas 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals Friday, winning the first 11 points and not making an unforced error in the first and third sets to reach his first Grand Slam final.

Federer routed No. 6 Andy Roddick 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 Thursday night, calling it his best match ever in Melbourne.

“He’s the No. 1 player in the world by far. … I lost many times with him,” Gonzalez said. “But now I’m playing much better than the last time we played. And it’s only one match. I’m going to give everything that I have to try to win my first Slam.”

The rifling forehand that Gonzalez used in his straight-sets quarterfinal upset of No. 2 Nadal was again on display against No. 12 Haas, who is 0-3 in Australian Open semifinals.

The Chilean pounded 18 forehand winners, some with a low, flat trajectory that barely grazed the net and others that looped and curled inside the lines. He had 42 winners in all, and only three unforced errors. Haas said everything he tried backfired, and everything Gonzalez did seemed to work. “I just have to tip the hat, say that’s too good tonight,” Haas said. “Nothing I could have done.”

Federer has won nine of his 10 major finals. His victory over Roddick put him into a seventh consecutive Grand Slam final, tying a record set in 1934 by Jack Crawford.

In the women’s final Saturday, reigning U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova faces Serena Williams, unseeded and ranked No. 81 after long stretches on the sidelines with a knee problem since winning the last of her seven majors in Australia two years ago.

Williams saved match points against Sharapova in the semifinals here in 2005 and then beat Lindsay Davenport in the final. Between that win and this tournament, she had not beaten a top 10 player and was a long shot at Melbourne Park.

“That’s always fun,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of comebacks in this tournament. I went from rock bottom to, ‘Hey, there she is again.’ I don’t have anything to lose. But I try to play every tournament like that.”

Her fall from the top of women’s tennis – when she completed her Serena Slam by winning four consecutive majors from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian in 2003 – coincided with the start of Federer’s ascent.

Williams said it would be nice to match the seemingly untouchable Federer now.

“That would be the ultimate experience,” she said. “He’s definitely like a role model to me.”

Federer has topped the rankings for three years, and Gonzalez understands how high the bar has now been set.

“I’m playing the most important match in my life and he’s the best player of the last many years. He’s winning all the time,” Gonzalez said. “He has to lose sometime. I’m going to try to do it on Sunday.”

Gonzalez has improved his temperament, his backhand – where he once felt “a hole” on his left side – and his shot selection.

The turnaround started last May when he began working with Larry Stefanki, who previously coached John McEnroe, Marcelo Rio and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

In this event, Gonzalez has beaten former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, No. 5 James Blake and Nadal and is no longer vulnerable on big points. He has come a long way since his first-round exit last year, when he was seeded ninth and lost to American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr. in five sets.

“I cramped. I lost against a qualifier, playing really bad tennis. Maybe the worst match in my life. Not maybe; I think was,” Gonzalez said. “Maybe I was here like three or four days. Now I’m here like three weeks. It’s really nice.”

Haas said Federer could be in a bit of trouble if Gonzalez keeps his rhythm.

“If he can maintain the level he showed tonight and the last couple of matches … the stats speak for themselves,” he said. “If he can make very few unforced errors, play like he did tonight, I think it would be a good match, and we’ll see what happens.”

Gonzalez’ last two losses to Federer were in finals – at Basel and Madrid late last season. Federer lost only five matches in 2006, including four in finals to Nadal. Against everyone else, he was 91-1.

Gonzalez promised to use the same tactics that rattled Nadal and Hewitt.

“I never beat him, but in tennis you always have a new opportunity,” Gonzalez said. “I have a really nice opportunity now.”

AP-ES-01-26-07 1627EST

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