For Federer, a win today would be grand

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / June 7, 2009
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PARIS - All of Roger Federer's bad memories from past French Open finals could be wiped away today.

All of those so-close-yet-so-far bids to win the only Grand Slam title to elude him could fade with just one victory.

If he beats 23d-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden in the final at Roland Garros, Federer will tie Pete Sampras's record of 14 major championships and complete a career Grand Slam.

As much as Federer already has done, one French Open championship could forever alter the Swiss star's place in history. No one knows that better than Andre Agassi, whose 1999 French Open title made him the fifth - and most recent - man with a career Grand Slam, changing the way he and others view his career.

"I'm pulling for Roger," said Agassi, "because I think he's earned this opportunity. I think, in many respects, he deserves it."

Federer's influence in the sport extends beyond the court: Svetlana Kuznetsova, who won the women's French Open title yesterday, pointed to a conversation with Federer at last year's Beijing Olympics as a pivotal moment for her.

Kuznetsova was down in the dumps after losing at the Summer Games and was trying to decide whether to keep training in Spain or return home to Russia. Some friends pushed her to ask Federer to pose for a photo, and Kuznetsova wound up speaking to him at length for the first time.

"He say, 'Look, you can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can concentrate and live in Moscow, do this. If you cannot, only you can judge,' " she recalled.

Kuznetsova, like many players, is pulling for Federer. They all know how close he's come, losing to Spain's Rafael Nadal in the past three French finals and the 2005 semifinals.

"If it wasn't for one sort of freak of nature from Mallorca," Agassi said, "he would have won this tournament, probably, already a handful of times."

It must have come as something of a relief for Federer when Soderling upset Nadal in the fourth round. Forget about Federer's 9-0 record against Soderling: Playing anyone other than Nadal on the last Sunday in Paris is a welcome change.

"There's no easy Grand Slam finals," said Federer, who is in his record-tying 19th such match, while Soderling is in his first. "I cannot, obviously, underestimate Robin . . . but obviously it's nice to see someone else."