Federer can tie Sampras, complete career Slam

Updated: 07 June 2009 08:54 IST

All of Roger Federer's bad memories from past French Open finals could be wiped away on Sunday.

Federer can tie Sampras, complete career Slam

Paris:

All of Roger Federer's bad memories from past French Open finals could be wiped away on Sunday.

All of those so-close-yet-so-far bids to win the only Grand Slam title to elude him could fade with just one victory.

If he beats 23rd-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden in the final at Roland Garros, Federer will tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 major championships and complete a career Grand Slam _ at least one trophy from each of tennis' four most prestigious tournaments.

Profiles: Roger Federer | Robin Soderling

"On the court, I never felt there was any place to go with him," said Andre Agassi, an eight-time major champion who played 11 matches against Federer and 34 against Sampras before retiring in 2006. "It was something I had never felt against anybody."

As much as Federer already has done, one French Open championship could forever alter the Swiss star's place in history. No one knows that better than Agassi, whose 1999 French Open title made him the fifth _ and most recent _ man with a career Grand Slam, changing the way he and others view his career.

"Every surface, every condition, demands something different from you, and also rewards you differently, as well, from the physical challenges that exist, to the mental challenges. It's highlighted by the fact that it doesn't get done too often," Agassi said during an appearance at Roland Garros with his wife, Steffi Graf, to promote their charitable foundations.

"I'm pulling for Roger tomorrow," Agassi added, "because I think he's earned this opportunity. I think, in many respects, he deserves it."

Federer's influence in the sport extends beyond the court: The winner of the French Open women's championship Saturday, Svetlana Kuznetsova, pointed to a conversation with him during last year's Beijing Olympics as a pivotal moment for her.

Kuznetsova was down in the dumps after losing at the Summer Games and was trying to decide whether to keep training in Spain or return home to Russia. Some friends pushed her to ask Federer to pose for a photo, and Kuznetsova wound up speaking to him at length for the first time.

"He say, 'Look, you can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can concentrate and live in Moscow, do this. If you cannot, only you can judge,'" she related after beating Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-2 for her first French Open title.

Kuznetsova, like many players, is pulling for Federer to get his first. They all know how near he's come, losing to Rafael Nadal in the past three French Open finals and the 2005 semifinals.

"If it wasn't for one sort of freak of nature from Mallorca," Agassi said, "he would have won this tournament, probably, already a handful of times."

It must have come as something of a relief for Federer when Soderling upset Nadal in the fourth round last weekend. Forget about Federer's 9-0 record against Soderling: Playing anyone other than Nadal on the last Sunday in Paris is a welcome difference.

"Look, there's no easy Grand Slam finals," said Federer, who is in his record-tying 19th such match, while Soderling is appearing in his first. "I cannot, obviously, underestimate Robin ... but obviously it's nice to see someone else, for a change."

This might be the 27-year-old Federer's best chance in France, but he is quick to point out that he does not consider this his last opportunity.

"I'm not going to say, 'OK, if I don't win this year, I'm never going to win,'" Federer said after gutting out a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 comeback victory over No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in the semifinals.

"I've always done my best here at Roland Garros. I have all my chances in the future, as well," he said. "So what I'll try and do is focus on the match. I'll do my best, play my best tennis on clay, and I hope that I can win the trophy."

Soderling said Federer should be a factor at the French Open in the future, "even if I can beat him tomorrow."

Either way, Federer long ago placed himself squarely in any discussion about the greatest tennis players ever, alongside men such as Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Sampras.

He was ranked No. 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks, until Nadal overtook him last season. He won Wimbledon (played on grass) and the U.S. Open (hard courts) five straight times apiece, and the Australian Open (hard courts) three times.

He has reached the semifinals at 20 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, twice as long as the second-best streak.

All that's left is to add "French Open champion" to his resume.

"Nobody underestimates where he deserves to fit in this game, but this is going to mean so much to him," Agassi said. "To have that hole sort of filled is something that I think he's going to earn tomorrow, and I think it'll change his life."

Topics : Tennis Roger Federer James Blake
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