Shanghai:Leave it to Roger Federer to get tennis' attention back onto the court instead of the gambling and match-fixing headlines that have cast a pall over the sport in recent months.
There's nothing like an athlete who's at the top of his game - think Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan - to transcend the game.
Top-ranked Federer won his fourth Masters Cup title in five years on Sunday, overwhelming No 6 David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3, 6-2. But it wasn't just that he blitzed a fourth consecutive top five opponent, it was how he did it as he showed that the gap between him and the rest of the men's field is as big as ever.
Ferrer believes Federer is the best ever, and it would be hard to argue against him now.
Against Ferrer, known for his quickness and defense, Federer was even quicker tracking down shots that would have been winners against almost anyone else, never giving up on a point and mixing in some good offense, too.
It was similar in the semifinals against second-ranked Rafael Nadal, his defensive-minded rival who succumbed in just 59 minutes. And hard-serving No 5 Andy Roddick could only watch in frustration as Federer landed 83 percent of his own first serves and yielded only two games in two sets.
Swiss fans said it all with a banner reading, "Shhh! Quiet! Genius at work."
Coming into the season-ending tournament for the top eight players, the focus was on match-fixing attempts that several players have reported. An investigation continues into unusual betting patterns during an August match at the Poland Open, when No 4 Nikolay Davydenko retired while trailing in the third set against Martin Vassallo Arguello.
The ATP cobbled together plans during a board meeting here to crack down on the threat that gambling poses to the sport's image and integrity.
Scandal-free Federer already has been tennis biggest and best ambassador. Proving that he isn't slipping - as some suggested when he lost his opening match to give him a two-match losing streak for the first time in 4 1/2 years - brings the spotlight back on him, along with his rivals' attempts to unseat him.
"I really hope I can give tennis a lift... because especially this year has been maybe a bit of a struggle at times," Federer said. "But I think the level of play this entire week has been excellent from all the players. I think that's going to stand out, and not the problems we've had this year.
"Hopefully more kids will start playing tennis in my home country, but also around the world, because I think it's a great sport. It's a clean sport, and I hope that in the future it's going to stay this way."
Federer will be in the headlines again this week when he faces Pete Sampras at an exhibition in Malaysia. In January, he will resume pursuit of Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slams - he has 12 now - at the Australian Open.
"I'm so excited to play against him," Federer said. "It's a dream come true in some ways. I practiced with him in L.A. this year. He's still got the lethal forehand, the great slice and the great serve, the fantastic movement and volleys."
Ferrer was simply no match for Federer's blend of spins, power and volleying skills. Playing in his biggest-ever final and first Masters Cup, Ferrer admitted he was a bit nervous - and Federer made sure he never got comfortable, improving his record against the Spaniard to 8-0.
Federer faced a break point at 2-2, 30-40 in the first set, then ran off 18 of the next 19 points. The streak also started a stretch in which Federer won 30 of 33 service points through the end of the second set.
"I surprise myself at times," said the 26-year-old Federer, who hopes to play 'til he's 35. "I've always had a tendency to all of a sudden go in streaks. Once you get on a roll, it's so hard for the opponent to come back into it. I don't allow them. I can mix it up and change it up. This is my big strength. I hope I can keep that going for many more years to come, obviously."
"It was a nice victory, especially proving it, to myself and the world, that I can do it over and over again," said Federer, who collected $1.2 million and a new car for his 53rd career title, including eight this year. "I practiced hard to get this level. So when it all comes together in a finals like today against Ferrer, it's fantastic."