He never lets them see him sweat.
With one notable exception when the tears flowed after he won Wimbledon last year, Roger Federer’s emotions usually stay tucked away behind his self-described poker face, tidily withheld from the man across the net and the fans sitting in the stands.
Exception No. 2 came at Melbourne Park on Friday night when he became the new No. 1.
Federer watched a shot from Juan Carlos Ferrero sail out and he let out his emotions -- a blast of pure joy beamed at his entourage -- and knelt on the court at Rod Laver Arena.
“I just really wanted to enjoy that moment for myself, and the people who knew that I was playing for No. 1 in the world,” Federer said. “They definitely saw what was going on. It’s just something I will never have again in my life. You’re only one time No. 1 in the world for the first time in your career or in your life, maybe.”
It was not a prolonged celebration; after all, his work is not yet completed at the Australian Open.
Though Federer will become No. 1 on the ATP’s Entry Rankings, by virtue of his 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory against the third-seeded Ferrero, he still has one match remaining here. In the final, No. 2-seeded Federer, of Switzerland, will play unseeded Marat Safin of Russia. The ranking change will be official Monday.
Federer described the matchup against Safin about as efficiently as he disposed of the injured Ferrero, who was a step slow in the 1-hour 29-minute semifinal because of strained groin muscles.
“Great guy, great match, great player,” said Federer, who is 3-1 against Safin. They have not played since late 2002.
Safin’s grueling trek through the draw -- he has spent eight more hours on court than Federer -- has been stunning. He missed most of 2003 because of a career-threatening wrist injury and has come back fitter, mentally and physically, than ever. Safin, ranked 86th, has defeated five Americans in six matches, including four in a row: Todd Martin, James Blake, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi.
The former U.S. Open champion has become the American closer.
“I knew he’s definitely got the game to win these tournaments,” Federer said. "... It’s good to see him back. We’re all happy, but we’re scared at the same time.”
Now, the order has been shuffled slightly. Roddick, the U.S. Open champion who was ranked No. 1, will fall to third, behind Federer and Ferrero and ahead of Guillermo Coria. Agassi, who lost to Safin in a five-set semifinal, drops from No. 4 to 5.
Federer was able to wrap his mind around this special occasion because of a loss to Roddick last summer in Montreal. There, he had the chance to become No. 1 but lost a third-set tiebreaker in the semifinals.
“Today, I was much more relaxed. Definitely I was nervous, too, in the end,” said Federer, who won on his second match point and is the first Swiss man to become No. 1. “I don’t know if I would have served it out any other way if I wouldn’t have experienced what happened to me in Montreal, because I was basically shaking all over my body because I couldn’t believe the chance I had.
“And it was -- how do you say -- it was the defeat that hurt me the most last year. And now to have made it, to have served it out
There is a chance the No. 1 ranking will not have a long-term home in 2004. Though Federer is 22, his chief competitors are also young: Ferrero, of Spain, is 23, Roddick 21 and Safin 24.
“I hope not. I don’t hope it’s going to change so quickly. Just getting used to the situation,” Federer said, smiling. “We’ll see how I handle it. But it’s definitely going to be an interesting year. There’s a lot of young guys around. Andre is still around. Yeah, I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen.”