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Poor Nadal showing blots Federer record

WITH his first French Open title, Roger Federer strengthened the argument he's the best player ever.

He completed a career grand slam, something only five other men have done. He won his 14th major title to equal the record held by Pete Sampras. He played in his 19th grand slam final to match Ivan Lendl's record.

"I don't know if we'll ever know who was the greatest of all time, but I'm definitely happy to be right up there," said the 27-year-old Federer, who plans to play into his 30s.

"I think it should be judged at the very end, you know. How well did I do? Good? Great? Very good?

"Or medium? I don't know. It's for other people to decide."

On his fourth try in a French Open final, and first against someone other than world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, Federer came through.

The list of grand slam champions who never won at Roland Garros includes Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Sampras.

"I'm obviously happy for Roger," Sampras said. "Now that he has won in Paris, I think it just more solidifies his place in history as the greatest player that played the game, in my opinion."

But is Federer - who acknowledged relief at avoiding Nadal in the final - even the best player of his generation? With the career slam complete, the biggest blemish on Federer's resume is a poor record versus Nadal. Federer is 7-13 against the Spaniard and has lost the past three times they've met in grand slam finals.

"I knew the day Rafa won't be in the finals, I will be there and I will win," Federer said. "I always knew that, and I believed in it. That's exactly what happened."

Andre Agassi, the most recent man to complete the career grand slam when he won at Roland Garros 10 years ago, presented Federer with the trophy. The other men to win all four major titles were Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Don Budge and Fred Perry.

This title came after Federer lost to Nadal at the French Open and Wimbledon last year, and at the Australian Open in February. Federer also lost the No. 1 ranking to Nadal last August.

"Sounds like an Achilles' heel, but at the same time, what (Federer) has done is unmatched," Agassi said.

"We're watching two guys in the prime of their years compete against each other - and Nadal has an answer for him. But what criteria do you use to judge best ever? Roger's numbers - it's hard to disagree with. His domination on different surfaces - hard to disagree with."

Debates about the greatest player ever usually include Laver, who swept the grand slams in 1962 and 1969. Sampras is another contender, even though he never reached the French Open final.

"I never played anyone playing that fast," said the beaten finalist Robin Soderling. "He doesn't have any weaknesses at all. He really deserves to be called the best player of all time."

In Sampras' final match, he beat Agassi for the 2002 US Open title in his 52nd career grand slam tournament. Federer has played 40 grand slam tournaments. "It looks pretty tough to beat now with 14 majors," Sampras said, "and I'm sure he's going to go on and win a lot more."

Nadal remains an obstacle, however.

He'll be waiting in two weeks at Wimbledon, where he ended Federer's five-year reign a year ago.


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