With the French Open's first round starting later on today, there's a lot to talk about. Namely, Roger Federer.
|Roger Federer on the red clay of the French Open last year|
Let me give you some background on the topic. Roger Federer, holder of the most major trophies (17) in the history of men's tennis in the open era (when tournaments became open to professional players, in 1968), has a less than remarkable record at the French Open for being arguably the most well-rounded player of all time. Well, that's what conventional wisdom and the majority of sports analysts say. However, in spite of only having one win at the French, his record there holds its own against just about any other player in history there outside the likes of Nadal and Borg, especially when you look at who his losses came against.
Lets look at some numbers. Over the last eight years, Roger has been in the final five times (won once). Every single time he lost in the final, it was to Rafa Nadal, who is unquestionably the greatest clay court player of all time (he's won the tournament seven times and he is only 26). The one time Roger won the tournament, he didn't have to go through Rafa (Rafa's only loss at the French was in the 4th round to Robin Soderling). The three times Roger didn't make it to the final, he lost to Rafa, Djokovic, and Soderling, who are all among the best clay court players ever.
There is a point to all of this that is relevant to the tournament which is about to begin. But not yet.
Roger is 31, relatively ancient for a tennis player trying to be a contender in majors (majors are also referred to as grand slams, though technically, a grand slam is the term used when a player wins all four of the majors in a single season, an extremely rare feat). He hasn't won a tournament so far this season, and he's slipping down the rankings as Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray continue to fight for the top spot. His playing has lost its consistency, and we see many more unforced errors than the Federer of years past. He's beginning to thin out his playing calendar, trying to focus on longevity and winning bigger tournaments rather than overworking himself. He's got a wife and twin daughters. He'll be 32 in August. What I'm getting at is that he may not be around on the ATP tour much longer. AND, he's a long shot for winning the French Open this year.
However... this may be one of the best shots he's had at the tournament in the last 10 years. First off, there is very little pressure on him. He's not expected to win. Rafa is expected to win for an 8th time, and Djokovic is feeling hungry to win his first French after a heartbreaking loss to Rafa last year. Second, is the draw. Roger has a relatively easy half of the draw. With Andy Murray out with a back injury, and Juan Martin Del Potro out as well, Roger's half of the draw looks very manageable for him, and does not contain Rafa or Djokovic, the two most dominant players right now. Those two will likely hammer it out against each other in the semi-final of the other half of the draw, with the winner quite possibly facing Roger in the final.
Here's my hope (and hesitant prediction): we see Roger and Rafa in the French Open Final. One last time. Roger shakes off the many losses to his opponent and plays as if his life depended on it. Roger can only beat Rafa when he is playing his absolute best, but this time, Roger brings it. The nailbiter match goes to the fifth set and Roger wins in extra sets, reminiscent of the Wimbledon 2008 final with Nadal (arguably the best match of all time). Roger wins the French Open through Nadal, a feat nobody thought possible, even Federer, except on this day. Those still hesitant to proclaim him the greatest player of all time (typically because of his losses to Rafa on clay) quiet down and let the champion savor his greatest win of all time.
|Roger Federer wins his first French Open against Robin Soderling in 2009|