Third time lucky in Paris for Federer?
Swiss world tennis number one Roger Federer says he is ready for the French Open, the only grand slam silverware missing from his collection, which begins on Sunday.
But he's going to have to up his game if he's to defeat his Spanish nemesis Rafael Nadal, who has beaten him twice in the past month on clay.
A win for Federer in the final on June 8 would mean not only his 13th grand slam title but more importantly the career Grand Slam (see box).
Nadal on the other hand will be aiming to win his fourth consecutive title on the clay courts of Paris, a feat previously achieved only by Björn Borg in 1981.
Federer has been runner-up at Roland Garros, as the tournament is also known, for the past two years. In a bid to avoid a hat trick of defeats he hired in April as his coach Spaniard José Higueras, a former clay court specialist.
Higueras's words of wisdom will remain a secret, but judging by Federer's performance in the final of the Hamburg Masters on May 18, improving his first serve, cutting down on unforced errors and not squandering a commanding lead will be likely topics of discussion.
Federer must still be wondering how he let a 5-1 lead on serve turn into a 7-5 first-set loss and how Nadal managed to win seven straight games.
The Spaniard's latest victory – which included a spectacular piece of gamesmanship, calling for an injury break when 5-2 down in the first set – raised his record against Federer to 8-1 on clay and 10-6 overall.
Federer was also 4-0 up in the second set of the Monte Carlo Masters final in April but managed to lose that – and the match – again to Nadal.
"I felt I played the right type of game from the baseline," Federer said after the defeat in Germany. "I could have served a little better; it wasn't my best performance maybe. I have to go for big serves – [Nadal] is a good return player."
Sunday's match was a reversal of the 2007 final, when Federer won his fourth title in Hamburg and broke Nadal's 81-match winning streak on clay.
The Hamburg Masters did nothing to improve Federer's worst season since he became number one in February 2004.
He had a bout of mononucleosis – glandular fever – at the start of the year and already has seven losses for 26 wins. His only title so far came at a relatively minor clay-court tournament in Portugal.
"I played for three hours and I had no physical problems whatsoever, so that's good," Federer said in Hamburg. "I'll take two days' rest and hopefully I'll be ready for Paris."
Federer has been overshadowed so far this year by Nadal and No. 3 Novak Djokovic. Both have three titles this year, with the Serb winning the Australian Open, the Indian Wells Masters and the Rome Masters to lead the annual points race.
Nadal is already the undisputed king of clay and his wins in Hamburg over Djokovic to protect the No. 2 ranking and over Federer certainly gave him a boost before Paris.
Since April 2005 Nadal has lost only twice in 110 matches on clay: to Federer in 2007 in the Hamburg and on May 7 in Rome to Juan Carlos Ferrero, when Nadal was slowed by a blister on his foot.
Worth a bet?
The bookmakers see the French Open as a three-horse race, with Nadal the odds-on favourite ahead of Federer (4-1) – who opens his campaign against American Sam Querrey - and Djokovic (5-1). The rest of the pack is miles behind.
One of the big British bookies is even offering 2-1 for a Nadal-Federer final. Of greater interest to the shrewd punter however could be the 100-1 quoted for Stanislas Wawrinka to win in Paris.
The Swiss number two made it to the final of this year's Rome Masters, where he took the first set off Djokovic but was eventually outgunned. Nevertheless that performance propelled him into the top ten. He will meet Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in the first round.
After defending champion Justine Henin's surprise decision earlier in May to retire with immediate effect, Serena Williams is favourite to pick up the ladies' trophy.
Switzerland's best female hope is Patty Schnyder, seeded tenth. Her first hurdle will be Russian Ekaterina Bychkova.
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
A player who holds all four grand slam titles – the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open – at the same time is said to have achieved the Grand Slam. A "true" Grand Slam is when all titles are won in the same calendar year.
Rod Laver is the only male player in the open era (post-1968) to achieve a Grand Slam (which was also "true"), in 1969. Andre Agassi won all four titles but in different years (a career Grand Slam).
Grand slam titles (open era):
14: Pete Sampras
12. Roger Federer
11: Björn Borg
8: Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl
The 2008 French Open is the second grand slam event of the year. It takes place at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris from May 25-June 8.
The 2008 French Open will offer prize money of €15,575,960 ($24,250,000). As in 2007 the event will award equal prize money to men and women in all events.
The male and female singles champions will each receive €1 million. A first round loser will receive €14,290.
The event began as a national tournament in 1891 as the Championat de France International de Tennis.
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