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Volume 71, Issue 143, Thursday, June 15, 2006


Federer still best player in the world


Mark Suarez 

On a scorching 90-degree day at the French Open this weekend, Roger Federer was three sets away from completing one of the most improbable runs in sports. The French Open crown has been the only major title that has eluded Federer throughout his career, and as he stood ready to tame the red clay at Roland Garros, tennis fans everywhere held their collective breaths in anticipation. The question: Would Roger Federer make history?

A win would have not only granted Federer a title in each of the four major tournaments for his career -- Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open -- but it would have made him only the third man in history to win all four of the events consecutively.

Standing in his way was Rafael Nadal, a formidable opponent who's had Federer's number lately. Nadal came into the finals sporting a 5-1 career mark against Federer and was wielding an impressive 59 match-win streak on clay. He was also vying for his second French Open crown in as many years.

In the end, Nadal's superiority on clay proved to be too much for Federer as he went on to win the match and claim the French Open title, bringing Federer's flirtation with history to an abrupt halt.

Despite Federer's loss to Nadal, his is still the only name that rises above the rest when discussing the all-time tennis greats. When all is said and done, Federer will be considered the greatest to swing a tennis racquet -- you can take that to the bank. Throughout his career, he has dazzled fans with his versatility and extraordinary shot making ability. He's the Michael Jordan of tennis.

Nadal may have gotten the best of Federer in France, but it'll be a different story if the two meet next month in London. There, the rugged clay of Roland Garros will be replaced by the cool grass of Wimbledon, turning the tables on Nadal, who has yet to prove he can dominate on a grass surface.

At 24 years old, Federer is recognized as the No. 1 tennis player in the world and has surpassed $23 million in prize money so far. He has won 37 career singles titles, including Wimbledon in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Australian Open in 2004 and 2006 and the U.S. Open in 2004 and 2005. He touts a 435-124 career singles record and has all the intangibles typically associated with a champion. He's a clutch performer who has the uncanny ability to put the ball wherever he wants to on the court.

Tennis is always looking for the next big rivalry, and Federer vs. Nadal will have to fit the bill for now. It was not too long ago that the R-world was irrationally applied to matches between Federer and Andy Roddick. By definition, this cannot be a rivalry because Roger Federer is 10-1 in his career against Roddick and he has won nine consecutive sets against him since 2004.

Federer vs. Nadal should live up to some of the hype in the years to come. Nadal is just 20 years old and only getting better, but Federer is in a class of his own and will pull away from Nadal once he gets him in a few matches off the clay stuff. Four of Nadal's career six wins over Federer have come on clay.

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