After two weeks of near-flawless tennis, Fernando Gonzalez let an opportunity slip when he could scarcely afford to _ in a Grand Slam final against Roger Federer.
The 26-year-old Chilean was giving the Swiss star a fair amount of trouble in the first set of Sunday's final in swirling winds at Rod Laver Arena.
"He was missing little bit with his forehand, and he gave me the chance in the first set," Gonzalez said. "I didn't take it. After that he was playing really, really well."
Federer, seeking his 10th Grand Slam and to become the first player since Bjorn Borg at the 1980 French Open to win a major without dropping a set, went on to post a 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 win. Mission accomplished.
Gonzalez, who had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals of any of his 23 previous Grand Slams, kept Federer under pressure with a strong forehand and broke him in the ninth game, the first break-point chance of the match.
He also had two set points in the next game but failed to convert.
"I was missing too many forehands, I didn't know what to do exactly with his slice," Federer said. "Maybe the wind, maybe his court coverage and everything put me under pressure, and I wasn't feeling that great right from the start."
Despite falling to 0-10 against Federer, the match ended a remarkable two weeks for the 10th-seeded Gonzalez, who will leave the tournament ranked No. 5.
He beat Lleyton Hewitt, James Blake and No. 2 Rafael Nadal along the way at Melbourne Park, and in his semifinal win over Tommy Haas, made only three unforced errors _ all in the second set.
"I've been playing really good tennis, so I'm in a good level," said Gonzalez. "I feel that I can still improve in other things ... it's a very positive tournament for me."
His performance impressed his many fans in the crowd, many who painted Chilean colors on their faces or waved flags.
"I'm sad, not disappointed, because I think that Gonzalez played a very good match," said Eduardo Bottinelli, who lives in the Chilean capital Santiago but is in Australia on a working holiday. "But Federer is just a machine."
Gonzalez has improved in the past year under new coach Larry Stefanki, who previously worked with John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Tim Henman. Gonzalez' already strong forehand has become more potent, his backhand is no longer exploited by his opponents, and he has become more patient with his shotmaking.
"I've worked a lot on my net game," Gonzalez said before the match. "I can go in, I can slice. I can do all the things that I never did before."
But Federer can make anyone's improvements look mediocre.
"Roger took every opportunity," Gonzalez said after his loss. "He's a great player. He can make everything."
But not enough to keep Gonzalez from remaining optimistic of beating Federer down the road.
"I lost 10 times to him already," said Gonzalez. "But every match is a new match, so I have to try next week."