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FEDERER STREAK REACHES 21 AND COUNTING

In his official ATP bio, Roger Federer lists Pete Sampras as his favorite tennis player.

Pretty poetic when you consider Federer is putting together a Sampras-like summer.

The Swiss native, who turns 23 on Aug. 8, extended his winning streak to 21 matches on Friday afternoon with a challenging 7-5, 6-4 win over Fabrice Santoro of France in the Tennis Masters Canada quarterfinals.

The 21-match winning streak -- the longest since Sampras won 24 in a row in 1999 -- ties him for the fifth longest winning streak since 1990. He's won 29 of his last 30 matches, with the only loss coming to Gustavo Kuerten in the third round of the French Open.

"Well, there is more and more talk about it," Federer said. "But I really actually thought about it last night and said, 'I am not here to just keep that streak going. I'm out here to actually concentrate on each and every match and hopefully try to win the tournament.' Then if the streak continues, that's fine.

"I can't ask for more, you know, because if I want to play better, I think that's the wrong approach. It's about keeping that good level and staying focused. . . . If somebody would have told me after the French that I'm not going to lose a match until now, I would have told them, well, this is almost impossible."

Along with the win streak has come seven tournament titles. He kicked off 2004 with his first Australian Open title then took over the No. 1 ranking in February and has held it since. He defended his Wimbledon title in July and followed that up with a win at the Swiss Open in Gstaad.

"I didn't have the feeling too much changed really, except people respect me more as being No. 1 in the world instead of seeing me as being world champion or Wimbledon champion," Federer said. "You know having No. 1 in the world on your side it is good. I find a lot of respect coming my way."

Granted, Friday's win wasn't the easiest. Federer had to be patient and finally decided to be a bit aggressive to earn the win and improve to 55-4 this year, 27-2 on hard courts.

Santoro, who is 12-12 this year, was a difficult opponent for Federer. Santoro never quit on a point, offered some unconventional shots and hit the ball so slow that Federer struggled at times to create his own pace.

Still, Federer showed what's made him such a formidable opponent this season -- a complete variety of shots, combined with strength and athleticism. He's skilled from the baseline, artistic at the net and can be powerful or delicate from both.

And he can make some good decisions. With Santoro serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Federer put the pressure on. At 15-30, Federer took a chance, ran around a Santoro serve to launch a powerful forehand crosscourt winner. That gave him two match points and he promptly put it away on the next point.

All of his success this season has come without a coach. Federer has been without one since he fired Peter Lundgren in December 2003. He's thought about getting a coach, but since winning the Australian Open, he's content to take his time.

"It's going to be difficult for the coach no matter what because he will be in a tough situation. Let's say, if I start losing suddenly, he will be the man to blame," Federer said. "This is also why I don't want to start having a coach and then say this is not the right guy and start jumping around. I hope when I find one, they will be with me for a long time, because I am anyway the type of person who prefers to have a long-term (coach) rather than just a one month here, two months there."

Today, it will be Federer facing Thomas Johansson of Sweden, who defeated countryman Joachim Johansson, 6-3, 7-6 (5), in the quarterfinals. The other semifinal will feature No. 2 seed Andy Roddick, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Czech qualifier Jan Hernych, against German Nicolas Kiefer. Kiefer beat Austrian Jurgen Melzer, 3-6, 6-1, 6-1.
e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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