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Roger Federer: Grand Slam Man

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Roger Federer© Getty Images

Melbourne’s tears of anguish are now Paris’ tears of joy. And, it seems, reports of Roger Federer’s decline have been greatly exaggerated.

One year on from his devastating loss to Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros final, Roger Federer returned to Paris to claim the lone Grand Slam title that had eluded him, in the process completing a career Grand Slam and equaling Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major titles. Perhaps fittingly, Federer was forced to work the hardest for the one major that had proven the toughest for him to win.

Despite the unexpected fourth-round loss of Rafael Nadal, who had denied the Swiss for four consecutive years (including in the past three finals), Federer had never worked harder or longer for a Grand Slam title. He dropped six sets en route to the title, surviving five-setters against Tommy Haas in the fourth round (when he was five points from defeat) and against Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals, when he came from two sets to one down.

And what a difference one tournament win makes! After his loss to Nadal in five sets in the Australian Open final, it seemed that Federer’s claim to the mantle of ‘greatest player ever’ was on shaky ground. The common refrain was ‘How can he be the greatest ever when he may not be the greatest of his generation?’. But after completing his career Grand Slam in Paris and tying Sampras, the tennis world is once again ready to acclaim Federer the best of all time. As John McEnroe said on NBC: “He’s got my vote."

Should there ever have been any doubt? Although Federer had lost his air of invincibility, taken losses to a variety of opponents and even endured a six-month title drought before his satisfying win over Nadal in the Madrid final, at Grand Slam level he continued to rewrite the record books. Yes, there had been three painful final losses to Nadal at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2008 and at the 2009 Australian Open, but there had also been a fifth consecutive US Open title, when Federer became the only player in history to win five straight titles at two Grand Slam tournaments, the other being Wimbledon.

Federer’s consistency at Grand Slam level will likely stand the test of time. He has appeared in 15 of the past 16 Grand Slam finals and reached the semi-finals or better at 20 consecutive majors. Not bad numbers for someone who was considered to be in a slump before winning his 15th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Madrid less than one month ago. In reality, the only question hanging over Federer’s head is whether he can chip away at his 7-13 win-loss record against Nadal. Next month he will start favourite to reach a seventh consecutive Wimbledon final and claim a sixth title at the All England Club.

And there’s still plenty to play for after Wimbledon. Federer has his sights set on Andre Agassi’s record 17 ATP Masters 1000 titles, a potential sixth consecutive US Open crown and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (buy tickets, visit official web site), where the 2009 ATP World Tour Champion will be crowned. Only one player in history has ever reclaimed the year-end No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking after losing it. That was Ivan Lendl, who had it from 1985-87, lost it in ‘88 and reclaimed it in ‘89. Federer does have significant ground to make up on Nadal, but as the events of Roland Garros have shown, he should never be counted out.

For now, Federer plans to take a brief moment to smell the roses and savor his Roland Garros triumph and become just the sixth man in history to complete a career Grand Slam. Reflecting on his accomplishment, Federer said: "I just think it's an unbelievable achievement. I'm very proud of my career, obviously. I achieved more than I ever thought I would. My dream as a boy was to win Wimbledon one day. I won that five times. To get it (Roland Garros) at the end as the last remaining Grand Slam, it's an incredible feeling. The waiting and the age definitely has a big impact on how important and how nice this victory actually is. It's been a long time coming, and I'm happy I got it today. I'm very proud."

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DEUCE, DEUCE Roland Garros 2009

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