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Federer faces Nadal challenge at French Open

Roger Federer (left) and Rafael Nadal are fierce rivals Keystone

World number one Roger Federer has started his assault on the French Open, the only grand-slam title to have eluded the Swiss tennis star.

This content was published on May 28, 2006 - 13:06

All eyes are on the great rivalry between him and Spanish player Rafael Nadal, the current Roland Garros champion and king of the clay court.

Federer won his first round match against qualifier Diego Hartfield of Argentina on Sunday. He was due to face Frenchman Arnaud Clement, but the number 56 pulled out with an injury.

Neither Federer nor fellow Swiss Martina Hingis have ever won the French Open.

Federer is coming to Paris with a real chance of clinching the elusive trophy, whereas Hingis, returning to the court after five years' absence, is hoping to repeat her recent Italian Open win.

In a break with tradition, the Roland Garros competition has started a day earlier than usual, for financial reasons and to allow spectators an extra day of tennis.

Federer will be one of the first to set foot in the courts. "I am well aware of the significance of a victory in Paris," the Basel resident said on the eve of his match.

"But I am ready, I'm got the form which allows me to play difficult games in a row. You really have to be strong physically and mentally to make your mark here."

Lesson

Federer has learned his lesson well, after crashing out of the semi-finals last year to teenager Nadal. The Spaniard later went on to win the title.

Since then, the 19-year-old Nadal has not lost a single clay court match, with 53 consecutive wins. If he clinches his next game, he will beat the record for clay held by Guillermo Vilas of Argentina.

The Swiss has never beaten Nadal on the surfance and has defeated him only once in six meetings, last season in the Miami Masters Series final.

"Nadal is the man to beat in Paris," said Federer. "He's my biggest rival, especially on clay."

"But there's no point in thinking about it too much at the moment, because if we do face each other, it won't be before the final."

If Federer wins, he could also become the first man to hold all four Grand Slams at the same time since Australia's Rod Laver in 1969.

Outsider's chance

For her part, Hingis could be considered in with an outsider's chance after her victory in Rome earlier in May. This was her first win since returning to competition.

Seeded 14th, the St Gallen resident normally plays well on clay, but she has not played in Paris since 2001. However, she has not ruled herself out of the competition, despite the presence of French number one and 2005 champion Amelie Mauresmo.

"I had my chances in the past," she said after her Rome win. "This year there are many good players who can do well in the [Paris] tournament.

"I've always said I'm a good horse but still an underdog, but this win in Rome will give my confidence a big boost."

swissinfo

Key facts

Roger Federer (Switzerland) defeated Diego Hartfield (Argentina) on Sunday.
The result: 7-5, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

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In brief

Roger Federer has dominated men's tennis since February 2004, but he has never won the French Open.

It is the only grand slam title which has eluded the Basel resident. He has won the Australian Open twice (2004 and 2006), Wimbledon three times (2003, 2004 and 2005), and the US Open two times (2004 and 2005).

If he wins in Paris, Federer will become only the sixth man to win all four grand slams at least once.

Martina Hingis, Patty Schnyder, Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Stanislas Wawrinka are the other Swiss players taking part in the French Open.

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