French Open Win Cements Federer's Legend

June 8, 2009

Roger Federer defeated 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden 6-1, 7-6(7-1), 6-4 to win the 2009 French Open on Sunday in Paris. The victory was Federer's 14th Grand Slam Title, tying him with Pete Sampras for the all-time record.

The win, Federer's first at Roland Garros, also made the 27-year old Swiss star the 6th player ever to win all 4 major Grand Slam tournaments in a career and separated him from Sampras, who was never able to win the French Open.

To fully appreciate Federer's sustained greatness is not hard if one has any idea as to his accomplishments. Here are 5 of the more startling facts about what he has already achieved:

5. Federer was ranked number 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks (February 2, 2004 - August 18, 2008). Jimmy Connors is second with a streak of 160 consecutive weeks.

4. Federer's record-tying 14 Grand Slams include 1 French, 3 Australian, 5 Wimbledon, and 5 U.S Open Titles. His five consecutive Wimbledon's tie him with Bjorn Borg for the record. His five consecutive U.S Open titles (current streak) are a record as well, with Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe tied for second with three consecutive titles.

3. Federer is the only male player to win 2 Grand Slams for four consecutive years (2004-2007) and 3 Grand Slams three times (2004, 2005, and 2007).

2. Federer is the only male player to make 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals (2005 Wimbledon - 2007 U.S Open) and the only one to make 15 of 16 Grand Slam Finals (2005 Wimbledon - Present). He has also never lost a Grand Slam final to anyone other than Rafael Nadal.

and my personal favorite . . .

1. Federer is the first player to make at least the semifinals in 20 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments (Wimbledon 2004 - Present). Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver are tied for second....with 10. Further, during these last 20 Grand Slams, Federer has either won the tournament or been beaten by the eventual winner. In other words, if you were good enough to beat Federer at a Grand Slam in the last 5 years, you were going to be good enough to be beat anyone else.

So Is Federer the Greatest of All-Time?

At 27, Federer appears to have a long career yet ahead of him. There is very little reason to expect that he won't continue to destroy all of the meaningful career records of the sport. Yet if he were to retire today, would he be regarded as the greatest player ever?

Statistically, Federer has a very real argument. Nobody has ever dominated in the Open era the way Roger Federer has. While a handful of players can be considered for the mythical G.O.A.T status (apologies to Bill Tilden and Pancho Gonzales - who played almost exclusively before the Open era begin in 1968), all of the alternate contenders have strong arguments for and against them. Let's consider a few of these:

Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg was dominant at both the French Open (6 Titles) and Wimbledon (5 Titles). His 41-match winning streak at Wimbledon is still the record.

He won 82.29% of his total matches, an Open-era record, and 89.8% of his Grand Slam singles matches, an all-time record. He did this in an era when he had stiff competition from other greats like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. Consistently winning on clay courts and grass courts is probably the hardest thing to do and Borg certainly achieved that.

However, Borg amazingly never won either the Australian or U.S Open.

Borg played in only 1 Australian Open because in those days many players skipped this tournament due to the inconvenience of the travel and the fact it was played in December. Considering it was a different era, he can't really be blamed for this and if this was the only major he didn't win than he indeed would have a real claim to be the G.O.A.T.

However, Borg has no real excuse why he couldn't win at the U.S Open. It was played on a hard court and should have suited his baseline game. Nonetheless, he lost in all four finals that he played, losing twice to Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe respectively. His loss to McEnroe in the 1981 finals at the age of 25 would be the last grand slam match he would play before his retirement. In deciding to retire so young, Borg probably left at least a few more Grand Slam titles off his resume.

Rod Laver

The 5-foot eight-inch Australian serve and volley star completed an actual Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969. In 1962, only amateurs played in what we now recognize to be the big 4 tournaments. However, by 1969 the Open era had begun and all professional players were allowed to play.

Most recognized Laver as the best player in tennis for about a 7-year stretch (1964-1970). Further, he probably would have won more than the 11 Grand Slam titles (6 as an amateur) he did if professionals were allowed to play before 1968. From 1963-1967 Laver did not play in any Grand Slam tournaments (although he won many "Pro Majors" as they are now referred to) and even in the early 1970's it was common for players to play in only 2 or 3 majors.

The arguments against Laver stem mostly from his lack of size and the difficulty in assessing his greatness since he missed so many major tournaments due to the rules regarding amateur and professional play before the Open era. Also, some say he wasn't even better than Pancho Gonzales, who was competitive with Laver even in his 40's.

Pete Sampras

The 6-foot 1-inch Sampras also holds 14 Grand Slam Titles (2 Australian, 7 Wimbledon, 5 U.S Open) and ended his career with a win at the U.S Open in 2002. At his best he had an utterly dominant serve, a tremendous net game, and could also play from the baseline. An argument for him over Federer is that he faced stiffer competition with the likes of Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, and Andre Agassi playing during his era.

However, his inability to win at the French Open is his undoing. Truly, he probably could beat anyone in history on grass when he was on his game, and hang with anyone in history on hard courts, but the clay court game was too much for him and he never even reached the final in Paris.

The Argument Against Federer

However, if there is a true chink in the armor, it is Federer's poor record in head-to-head matches against Rafael Nadal. Federer is 7-13 in his matches with the current world #1 and 2-5 in Grand Slam finals.

It is slightly unfair to judge Federer by that standard. After all, the Nadal v. Federer rivalry may be the best in history, considering that one or the other has been the #1 or #2 player for the past 200 weeks. They are both clearly better than the rest of the pack.

But, can Roger Federer be the best of all-time when most people think that even in his heyday he would likely lose head-to-head with the other greatest player of his time? Let alone other all-time greats?

As it stands, Federer would be very much in the debate for G.O.A.T. However, Federer can really end this debate with a few more significant victories over Nadal in Grand Slam finals. Then his overall record, in this modern era, will be too much for anyone to deny.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for the

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