Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Roger Federer stands on the brink of tennis history.
After withstanding yet another five-set battle, this one a 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Juan Martin Del Potro Friday, Federer will try to capture his first ever French Open championship on Sunday morning.
Federer’s opponent is the surprising Swede Robin Soderling, who has already knocked off four-time champion Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko and on Friday beat back Francisco Gonzalez 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.
Soderling’s victory came with Swedish legends Bjorn Borg (a six-time French Open winner) and Mats Wilander (three-time) watching from the stands.
It was the first time in 39 years that both men’s semis at the French went five sets. Federer had to come from two-sets-to-one down against the 6-foot-6 Del Petro. He has already come from two sets down to beat German veteran Tommy Haas.
Federer, who appeared in his 20th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, is 9-0 all-time against Soderling and is 11-0 against men not named Nadal in Slam finals.
“Look, there is no easy Grand Slam finals,” Federer said. “It’s very simple because the guy on the other side of the net has also won six matches and is in the shape of his life but obviously it’s nice to see someone else for a change in the French Open finals.”
If Federer prevails Sunday, he would win his 14th career Grand Slam title, tying him with American Pete Sampras atop the all-time list. Sampras, who won his last Slam at the U.S. Open in 2002, never won the French.
Federer, who has lost to Nadal in the last three French finals, has won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open five times each and the Australian Open three times, but has also never captured the French.
“It’s always fun to see people try to break records,” Paul Annacone, Sampras’ longtime coach, told Chris Clarey of The New York Times. “Obviously, I didn’t think Pete’s record would be caught so quickly. But Roger has just had such an amazing run. He’s such a class act, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Federer, 27, is seeking to become just the sixth man to win all four Slams. Fred Perry (Great Britain), Don Budge (USA), Rod Laver (Australia), Roy Emerson (Australia) and Andre Agassi (USA) are the others. Agassi is the only man to win four Slams on three surfaces because he won after the Australian and U.S. Open moved to hardcourts.
Laver won all four Slams in 1962 as an amateur and ’69 as a pro.
An elite group of talented men have won three of the four Slams but not the French. That list includes Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors and Sampras.
If Federer wins in Paris, he will almost certainly join Laver in the conversation about the greatest tennis player ever. Federer has said he may play until 2015, giving him ample time to break Sampras’ record.
“It is amazing,” Annacone said. “If he wins in Paris and someone tells me he’s the greatest ever, I can totally understand why they would say that. But the most exciting part is it’s still an unfinished book Let’s enjoy the rest of the book.”
GRAND SLAM SCORECARDMAJOR VICTORIES
Pete Sampras – 14
Roger Federer – 13
Roy Emerson – 12
Rod Laver – 11
Bjorn Borg – 11
Bill Tilden – 10
WON CAREER GRAND SLAM
(Graphics courtesy New York Times; Photo courtesy European Pressphoto Agency)
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.