Federer eyes career Grand Slam

Sunday, May 22, 2005

PARIS -- Year after bedeviling year, the thick red clay at the French Open buried the career Grand Slam aspirations of Pete Sampras. Is that to be the fate, too, of his heir as king of the game, Roger Federer?

Federer doesn't think so.

After six early exits at Roland Garros, Federer now has reason to believe he can master the grueling surface and join Andre Agassi as the only active men to win all four majors. Standing most prominently in Federer's way are two precocious 18-year-olds, Spain's Rafael Nadal and France's Richard Gasquet, as well as defending champion Gaston Gaudio of Argentina and the countryman Gaudio beat last year in the final, Guillermo Coria.

Along with his No. 1 seeding, the 23-year-old Federer comes into the French with his confidence high following his title on similar red clay courts in Hamburg last week, where he beat Gasquet in the final. Low key by nature, a realist from experience, Federer does not suffer from low expectations.

"Honestly, I don't see it being such an unbelievably tough draw," he said Saturday. "I'm not worried playing anybody.

"I'm confident I can do it. If I won't ever do it, this will only show at the end of the career. You have to be a little patient."

Federer, who won the Australian, Wimbledon and U.S. Open last year and Wimbledon the year before that, has lost in the first round of the French three times. He reached the fourth round in 2000 and the third round last year.

Perhaps that is why, despite Federer's top seeding and his 155-16 match record while winning 21 of his last 36 tournaments, he is only the 5-2 second choice among the oddsmakers. The No. 4-seeded Nadal, making his debut in the French main draw, is the 2-1 favorite after winning five clay tournaments this year.

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