Roger Federer starts his annual campaign to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and lift the one trophy missing from his collection.This content was published on May 23, 2009 - 17:28
This year, the Swiss world number two enters the tournament a week after defeating his Spanish nemesis on clay in Madrid. His first match is against another Spaniard – Alberto Martin – and he could end up playing fourth-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinal.
But as a leading tennis commentator tells swissinfo.ch, Nadal remains the strong favourite.
"Paris is a completely different story from Madrid," said René Stauffer, a sports journalist at Zurich's Tages-Anzeiger newspaper and author of "Quest for Perfection: The Roger Federer Story".
"The ball is slower because of the lower altitude and it's Nadal's territory. When you remember how Nadal played last year and Federer won only four games, things haven't changed that dramatically since then. I wouldn't put Federer on the same level as Nadal at all."
The 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 loss in last year's final was another slap in the face for 27-year-old Federer, who lifted the runner-up prize for the third time in a row.
But his 6-4 6-4 win in Madrid on May 17 has the second seed feeling good about his chances.
"At this stage it does [give me a boost], considering I hadn't won a tournament [this season]," Federer said after the match.
"It's all finally paying off but it's not the moment to get carried away. I'm very excited going to Paris whereas a couple of weeks ago I was still a little bit unsure about my game."
Doubters will point out that Federer had similar feelings two years ago after he beat Nadal on clay at Hamburg to snap the Spaniard's record 81-match winning streak on the surface.
After that win Federer said he'd figured Nadal out ahead of Paris – before losing to him in the final.
"I know what I have to do but that doesn't make it easy," Federer admitted on Sunday.
So what does Federer, who has won only seven of their 20 encounters, have to do?
"He really has to believe in himself and I'd say that this belief is back," Stauffer said.
"And if he plays Nadal, he has to take his chances. I remember sets when he had about eight breakpoints and didn't take one of them. Last year in Paris he missed a lot of these crucial points – you can't do that if you want to beat Nadal. [In Madrid] it was different. He had two breakpoints and converted both of them. That makes a huge difference."
Stauffer added that Federer's confidence in Madrid was backed up by solid tactics.
"He was mixing it up like never before: he was aggressive, he was coming to the net, playing short balls, drop shots – Nadal never knew what was coming. You could see that Federer felt good."
For his part, Nadal, who has an imposing 25-2 record in clay court finals, said the Madrid result would have little influence on Roland Garros.
"To me, this tournament has nothing to do with Paris. [Madrid] is practically another surface compared with Paris," said the 22-year-old, who wasn't at his best following a record four-hour semifinal win over Novak Djokovic.
"Federer has the potential to win at Paris and at any site in the world. He's showed that throughout his career. But Paris begins with the first round, not the final. If I was told now that I could play the final against him, show me the paper and I'll sign."
In 2006 and 2007 one loss to Nadal was all that stood between Federer and a Grand Slam – wins in all four majors in the same year, something no man has achieved since 1969.
The situation is different this year. For a start, Nadal is ranked number one, having ended Federer's 237-week reign by winning the Olympic gold medal at Beijing in August.
Nadal has also beaten the 13-time grand slam winner in the finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. The loss at Melbourne Park in January left Federer in tears.
Whether the bookmakers will be weeping remains to be seen. Going into the tournament, they were offering a tempting 7-1 on Federer to win, which would certainly sting them if he did pull it off.
Nadal however was 3-1 on – you have to lay out three francs to win back just one – for a fourth consecutive title. Djokovic and Britain's Andy Murray were at 8-1 and 12-1 respectively, but third-seed Djokovic's chances of reaching the final are hampered by a probable meeting with Federer in the semis.
If you're feeling very lucky, you could have a punt on Stanislas Wawrinka, Switzerland's number two, at 125-1.
Federer has been drawn to play Spaniard Alberto Martin in his opening match, while Wawrinka will take on Frenchman Nicolas Devilder.
Stauffer is reluctant to make any predictions, but agrees with the bookmakers on a Nadal-Federer final.
"I wouldn't bet against that. They've really taken over the Grand Slam scene, winning 17 of the past 20 titles."
And if that did happen, the smart money is on Nadal?
"I'm afraid so."
Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch
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
13. Roger Federer
11: Björn Borg
8: Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl
The French Open is the second grand slam event of the year and is held at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris.
The 2009 French Open offered prize money of €16,150,460 ($24,400,000), up 3.69% on 2008. As in 2008 the event awarded equal prize money to men and women in all events. The male and female singles champions each receive €1,060,000, up from one million last year.
The event began as a national tournament in 1891 as the Championnat de France International de Tennis.