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Best of Three: Federer stays true to form with triumph in Dubai

Last fall, Federer came within a point of reaching the U.S. Open final. Since that defeat, he finished the season 17-0, taking titles in Basel, Paris and once again at the ATP's year-end clambake. After losing to Rafael Nadal in Australia and John Isner in Davis Cup, Federer won the Rotterdam title indoors, and then thrived outdoors in Dubai last week. After defeating Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets for the third time this year, Federer held off Andy Murray 7-5, 6-4 in the final.

"I really thought I played a good tournament here [in Dubai]," Federer said after the final. "I played a great tournament in Rotterdam. The end of last year was exceptional, so it's nice to also win a tournament outdoors now. That gives me hope that I can carry it over to Indian Wells and Miami."

We can debate whether he can string together seven straight matches to get back on the majors board. But say this: Federer is playing a lot better now than Pete Sampras was in 2002, when the latter fired up one for the memory banks and won the U.S. Open.

2. Career win for Murray?: On Friday, Murray handed Novak Djokovic a rare defeat (and his first of 2012), beating him in straight sets in the Dubai semis. I speculated over Twitter that this ranked among Murray's top five career wins. Why? Consider the context. Djokovic is a dominant player right now, the winner of four of the last five majors. Barely a month ago, Murray lost to Djokovic in Australia in heartbreaking fashion. Particularly with a new coach, Murray is entering the now-or-never phase of his career. For Murray to take down the No.1 player -- who's not injured or fatigued as he was last fall -- is, in my mind, a real statement win.

I was surprised by how many of you took issue with this. (The logic: Murray has beaten Djokovic in the past. This was only a 500-level event. It was best-of-three.) We can continue the debate, but I think the more interesting question is, What constitutes a "big win"? What are the factors? How much should the magnitude of the event matter? Doesn't it depend -- at least in part -- on what follows? If Murray uses this as a springboard, we'll look at Friday's Djokovic takedown one way. If Murray reverts to his five-and-out play at the majors, maybe it won't be such a big win in retrospect.

3. South African surprise: There's a tall, lanky hard-serving former college player who's carving it up on the ATP Tour. And John Isner is playing well, too. With the attention placed on the Big Four (or Big Three if you're among the uncharitable), it's hard for ascending ATP players to get much attention. But keep an eye on Kevin Anderson, a 6-foot-8 South African and University of Illinois product, who may well be a top 16 seed when Wimbledon rolls around.

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On Sunday, the 25-year-old Anderson won his second ATP title, beating Andy Roddick, Isner and then Australian qualifier turned surprise finalist Marinko Matosevic to take the trophy in Delray. Anderson lacks Isner's ground game, but he possesses a top-five serve and has improved his movement. Put him on your Indian Wells watch list.


? Check your local listings for Monday night's BNP Paribas Showdown exhibition at Madison Square Garden in New York, where Federer will face Roddick and Maria Sharapova will play Caroline Wozniacki.

? Last week's doubles winners. In advance of the Olympics, it was Country week:

On the men's side: A pair of Indians, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna ,won in Dubai. Brits Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins were victorious in Delray.

On the women's side: In Kuala Lumpur, Kai-Chen Chang and Chia-Jung Chuang of Taiwan took the title. (Hsieh Su-Wei, another Taiwanese, won the singles) And in Acapulco, the big prize went to Italians Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani (who also won the singles).

? To get you in the mood for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.