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Genius Federer in search of a rival

January 29, 2007 11:33 IST
No wonder Roger Federer wishes he could jump into a time machine and go back through the years to have a shot at Rod Laver or Bjorn Borg.

With no real rival in sight, the Swiss master completed the most dominant men's grand slam campaign in 27 years when he repelled Chilean Fernando Gonzalez at the Australian Open on Sunday to win his 10th major crown.

Not since Borg's run to the 1980 Roland Garros title had a man won a grand slam title without dropping a set in the tournament.

At the speed the Federer express has been going, Pete Sampras's record haul of 14 majors will be wiped from the history books by 2008.

It took the American 12 years to amass his trophies, Federer has scooped up number 10 in just over 3-1/2.

"For me, it's really scary how many I've won," the Swiss said following his 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 win.

"If somebody would have told me I'd win 10 grand slams from mid 2003 till today, I never would have thought there was any chance of doing something like that.

"If I were another player, I would be amazed a little bit to see always the same guy winning."

If Federer himself is amazed, his peers must be sick of seeing the all-conquering Swiss on the other side of the net.

Andy Roddick dared to suggest last week that the rest of the world was closing the gap with Federer. That theory was blown wide open when the world number one pulverised the American sixth seed in the semi-finals for the loss of just six games.

Such is his dominance, Roddick and company may be feeling as if the old challenge round -- where winners of the previous year's competition were automatically granted byes into the final round -- had made a comeback.

Federer marched into his seventh successive grand slam final at Melbourne Park, equalling the record of Australian Jack Crawford set in 1934.


"I guess you can call me a genius because I'm outplaying many of my opponents, kind of maybe playing a bit different, you know, winning when I'm not playing my best," said Federer.

He was speaking as the first man in the professional era to win three consecutive majors twice in his career.

But a genius among mere mortals can lead to tedium.

Hence it has left Federer dreaming about testing his brilliance against two of the former greats.

Borg and Laver collected 11 grand slam titles each but both could have lifted many more.

Laver, the only man to have won two calendar Grand Slams in 1962 and 1969, was banned from entering the amateur-only grand slams from 1963 to 1967 after turning professional.

Having remained dominant throughout the period, it is easy to speculate that Laver would almost certainly have won several more majors from the 20 he was forced to miss.

Borg won his first slam at 18 and by 26 he had turned his back on the sport.

But with Federer in hot pursuit of matching Borg's professional era record of five consecutive Wimbledon crowns later this year, a duel between the two at their prime on the hallowed Centre Court would have left the purists drooling.

Although such tussles can only remain a figment of one's imagination, Laver has no doubt where Federer ranks among the greats.

"The art of Roger is probably the best player I've ever seen," he said.

"Roger is really in the middle of his career ... and the way he's compiling the grand slam titles, I think he's got a great chance of being the best ever.

"Roger's got too many shots, too much talent in one body. It's hardly fair that one person can do all this -- his backhands, his forehands, volleys, serving, his court position ... the way he moves around the court, you feel like he's barely touching the ground, and that's the sign of a great champion."

Since none of Federer's contemporaries have the game to challenge him, expectations are mounting that 2007 could be the year he joins Laver and Don Budge as the only men to win a calendar Grand Slam.

Having reached the final at Roland Garros last year, even the Swiss believes he is now capable of conquering the red dirt.

"I hope the French Open is going to work out for me, and I'm going to play well, hopefully win the title. That will be a dream come true." he said.

Pritha Sarkar
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