Federer needs to be great dictator

Updated on May 26, 2007 04:48 PM IST
Roger Federer has virtually everything any 25-year-old tennis player could want. What he doesn't have is a French Open title, writes Dave James.
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AFP | ByDave James, Paris

Roger Federer has virtually everything any 25-year-old tennis player could want.

Thirty million dollars in prize money tucked away in the bank, 10 Grand Slam titles, at least three languages comfortably mastered and the respect and admiration of peers, fans and media.

What he doesn't have is a French Open title.

However, there's no shortage of people queuing up to tell him how to secure that elusive honour.

What has always been mission impossible for the likeable Swiss is how to inflict a first ever Roland Garros defeat on nemesis Rafael Nadal.

He has solved part of the mystery himself by beating the Spaniard for the first time in six clay court meetings in the Hamburg Masters final last Sunday.

"I played fantastic and I really got the feeling in the end I had figured out how to play him," said Federer after his 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win brought Nadal's 81-match winning streak on clay to en end.

"But I have to be very careful not to get too carried away."

Federer may have learned crucial lessons from seeing Lleyton Hewitt push the Spaniard all the way in the semi-finals in Germany.

"Nadal is the best player on clay, no doubt about that," said the Australian who took the first set in their last four clash.

"He is extremely tough. There are no cheap points against him. You've got to go out there and beat him. When he is front-running, he is one of the best in the business."

Hewitt intentionally forced the pace and came to the net although the inevitable fall-out was 43 unforced errors compared to Nadal's 25.

Most observers believe that if Federer is to beat the two-time defending champion, and clinch a title which would make him just the third man to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, he needs to repeat his Hamburg formula.

There he made a conscious effort to shorten the points; only seven points lasted 10 strokes or more. He was also keen to attack the Nadal forehand.

But the Swiss is right not to get too confident.

By common consent, the clay court in Hamburg is a markedly different beast to the Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros. The German surface is much slower and the bounce lower.

Furthermore, Nadal, who has already won the Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome titles on clay this year, admitted that he was exhausted by the time the Hamburg final arrived.

Federer split with coach Tony Roche after his shock second round exit in Rome but one man he won't be calling for advice is former triple French Open champion Mats Wilander.

The Swede accused Federer of being "frightened" of facing Nadal after the Spaniard cruised to a 6-4, 6-4 win in the Monte Carlo final.

"Nadal is left-handed, he is able to find Federer's backhand all the time in the serve and it's not a good mix," Wilander said after the final.

"Nadal is one of those young guys who really is not afraid of anybody, it doesn't matter if his name is Roger Federer and he has won 10 majors or whatever, Nadal is just not afraid."

But Wilander offered some hope to Federer even before the Hamburg turnaround.

"I think on paper Federer might be the favourite (to win the French Open) because he will be really focused on winning Roland Garros," added the Swede.

"He knows time is running out to win Roland Garros. He is not going to win it three times and I think he knows that. He's going to win it once, maybe twice, and I think this is the year to do it.

"If Nadal does not go through, Federer will win the French Open."

Federer arrived early in Paris.

Interestingly, he already had Nadal on his mind as he chose to hit with France's world number one junior Jonathan Eyserric - like the Spaniard, a powerful left-hander.

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