He is one of ParisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ favourite playersÃ¢â‚¬â€at least he is once all the French contenders have been counted and found wanting. For the French are as susceptible to the grace of his game and the graciousness of his demeanour as every other tennis lover.
Yet Roger Federer is not the favourite to win the 2010 French Open.
This year the draw contains a stronger, fitter and more complete Rafael Nadal than the one who was beaten in 2009Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s fourth round. He is the best that the terre battue has to offer, and he is the favourite for the title. Even Federer says so.
Roland Garros might nevertheless be the setting for a series of new Federer landmarks. It may also be the launch-pad for some important records.
In his next match, for example, Federer will hope to reach 700 tour-level wins and, coincidentally, 150 clay court wins. Impeccable timing comes naturally to the Swiss champion.
If he reaches the semi-finals, two more landmarks will be reached. First, he will notch up 200 Grand Slam match wins. But more significantly, he will achieve something that neither BjÃƒÂ¶rn Borg, nor Ivan Lendl nor even Nadal himself has managed: six consecutive semi-finals at the French Open. A fifth consecutive final would also see Federer outstrip all those champions.
As he reaches the final stages at Roland Garros, he will also increase the clear water between himself and the other greats of the Open era. With a semi-final place, FedererÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s streak of consecutive Grand Slam semis reaches 24Ã¢â‚¬â€14 clear of Lendl and Rod Laver. If he reaches the final, it will be his 23rd overall: four clear of the next man, Lendl. If he wins the tournament, it will be his 17th Grand Slam: three clear of Pete Sampras.
But perhaps the most important task for Federer at Roland Garros is to retain his No.1 ranking. As of next week, he is guaranteed to achieve a total of 285 weeks as the best man in tennis, but his all-important target is the Sampras benchmark of 286 weeks.
Federer has only to reach the semifinals to stay at No.1 and add that record-breaking week. Should he fall short of the semis, only a win from Nadal or Novak Djokovic can deny him.
This is a significant watershed, for if Federer fails to seal the record at Roland Garros, his chances of regaining the No.1 spot are not good. He has big points to defend during the rest of the season, while Nadal has very few.
But perhaps the biggest prize in tennisÃ¢â‚¬â€the Holy GrailÃ¢â‚¬â€is the calendar Slam: all four Majors in a single year.
Three times Federer has held three at once and on two of those occasions he reached the final of the fourth. But the Slam has remained stubbornly elusive due, for the most part, to the Ã¢â‚¬ËœNadal wallÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ at Roland Garros.
In 2010, Federer has another chance. He holds the Australian, already. He now has to win in Paris, and that means he has to find the key to beating his clay-court Nemesis. It really is all to play for.
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BIOGRAPHY: Jerome Boateng
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