Sunday, June 10, 2007

French Open title not needed for Federer

As I rolled out of bed this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time to watch the French Open men's singles final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (recap/results), I thought about how a win for Federer would most likely secure his place as the greatest men's singles champion of all time. Then I thought about how ridiculous of a statement that truly was.

It's not ridiculous to think winning the French Open would make him one of the all-time greats - after all, he's already got 10 grand slam titles, only four shy of tying Pete Sampras for the most all time. But it's ridiculous to think that he'd need to win a championship at Roland Garros to prove his greatness. Hasn't Roger already done enough? If you just look at what he's done in the tennis realm, you know he has.

Just think about. He's won 10 grand slams since the summer of 2003, when he captured his first of four consecutive Wimbledon titles. In a little less than a month, he'll try to make it five in a row. No one has ever won Wimbledon five straight times in the Open Era (since 1968), and it hasn't been done since Laurie Doherty did it more than 100 years ago (1902-1906).

Federer might as well be a landscaper. No one knows how to work grass better than he does. Pete Sampras may have seven titles at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club, but he - much like the rest of men's singles players - is powerless to stop Federer's assault on the record books (and the field). Aside from his four titles at Wimbledon, he has three championships at both the Australian and U.S. Opens. The only non-bright spot - if you can even call it that - is the fact that he hasn't won the French Open.

Boo [expletive] hoo

Federer will continue to close in on Sampras's record of 14 slam titles until he eventually passes Pistol Pete to become to greatest champion ever in men's tennis. The fact that Rafael Nadal has beaten Federer in the last two French Open finals, preventing a career slam for Federer, has zero effect on Federer's place in history. Federer does not need a clay-court slam to be the all-time greatest.

Pete Sampras is the greatest men's singles player of all-time ... for now. A look at Sampras's numbers adding up to his 14 career Glam Slam titles:
- 7 championships at Wimbledom
- career record at Wimbledon: 63-7
- 2 championship at the Australian Open
- career record at the Australian Open: 45-9
- 5 championships at the U.S. Open
- career record at the U.S. Open: 71-9

And here's a quick look at how Sampras finished at Roland Garros each time he played there:
- 13 appearances
- 8 combined first- and second-round loses
- one semi-final appearance (1996)
- career record at the French Open: 24-13

Sampras in his prime at best sniffed the finals at the French Open. Federer has already played in two championship matches on the red clay. Those two loses came at the hands of possibly one of the best clay-court stars in the history of the sports (after all, Nadal is 34-0 now in best-of-5 matches on clay in his career with a 21-0 record at the French Open).

So while Federer may have been unable to defeat Nadal to complete his career slam, I say it's not necessary. Federer's legacy will be one of the best until the day he passes Sampras, at which point he will be regarded as the best.

Sure, Federer doesn't have much competition outside Nadal - and if you think Andy Roddick has any chance of competing with him, you either don't follow tennis or you got hit in the head by one of Federer's serves. Sampras had to go up against some great players to win his 14 championships, including Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Boris Becker and Michael Chang. Other than Nadal, Federer's competition has about as much star-power as the Kansas City Royals.

That's not meant to take anything away from Federer. He's virtually untouchable unless your name is Rafael Nadal and you're playing on red clay. So don't think that a career lacking a title at Roland Garros isn't worthy of being known as the greatest career ever assembled. With 10 slams already conquered, it's only a matter of time before he ties and passes Sampras.

The clock will certainly continue to tick at The Championships at Wimbledon where Federer will no doubt pick up No. 11.

Nadal may own Federer on clay, but when they get to London, the Spaniard's ass ... well ... is grass.

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