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Posted: Friday June 5, 2009 5:43PM; Updated: Friday June 5, 2009 6:13PM
Jon Wertheim Jon Wertheim >
INSIDE TENNIS

Federer can silence critics by tying Grand Slam record on French clay

Story Highlights

The missing line on Roger Federer's résumé is a French Open title

It was frustrating for U.S. fans not to have a live broadcast of the semifinal

Rafael Nadal's knee injury adds another wrinkle of intrigue for Wimbledon

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With a victory Sunday, Roger Federer can equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Slam titles.
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SI.com caught up with Jon Wertheim to get his impressions of No. 2 seed Roger Federer's five-set victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals of the French Open on Friday. Federer will face Robin Soderling in Sunday's final.

SI.com: If Roger Federer takes the title Sunday, is he the greatest of all time?

Jon Wertheim: The No. 1 argument against him is that he hasn't won the French Open and that you need to win all four Grand Slam tournaments before being considered. This would take away the first line of defense for his critics. If he wins the French Open, then his Grand Slam victories span six years. I don't think it takes away much that Rafael Nadal bowed out early or that Federer didn't face another top-four player. It's funny that he could tie Pete Sampras' all-time majors record on clay -- the surface on which neither player has won a Grand Slam title. Just to make it to 20 consecutive Slam semis is insane. I think Nadal's early loss -- in the French, no less -- puts Federer's consistency in further perspective.

SI.com: Can Robin Soderling, who beat Nadal last Sunday, knock off Federer in the final?

Wertheim: If Soderling can win the French Open, having beaten both Nadal and Federer, there is no analogous achievement. It would be tremendous. Even so, he's shown a lot. He beat Nadal, and then still has enough to play a great match and win a five-setter against Fernando Gonzalez in the semifinals. Nice breakout tournament for him.

I think Federer is still the big favorite. There's a big difference between a semifinal and a final when that trophy is there on the court. The crowd's going to be crazy behind Federer. Soderling's the underdog. Federer was down two sets to one Friday and fought back. He's focused.

NBC has to be happy. I don't think the Soderling-del Potro final would have done much for the ratings, especially on the heels of the all-Russian women's final of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dinara Safina. I think Federer's owed some GE stock.

SI.com: Speaking of NBC, the network did not carry Federer's semifinal match, and it showed the other semifinal on tape delay.

Wertheim: You understand it at some level from NBC's perspective. The numbers are what they are, and they're not going to preempt The Today Show for Robin Soderling-Fernando Gonzalez. It is unfortunate that tennis fans didn't have an outlet. I think tape delay is a pretty dated concept these days, and it was frustrating that a major semifinal was not broadcast at all on American television. A number of us were able to watch it on the Australian Fox coverage, which had an international feed. I think that's where this is all going. The quality of those broadcasts will only improve.

SI.com: What do you make of Nadal's withdrawal from the Queens Wimbledon warmup with an injured knee?

Wertheim: I don't know what that is, whether it is R&R or a real injury. It just adds another wrinkle to this Wimbledon, especially if Federer wins the French Open. A month ago, we were talking about the decline of the 27-year-old Federer and how he had not won a title this calendar year. Suddenly he has won his last head-to-head with Nadal and he may take the French -- if he wins Sunday, that would be two of the last three majors, too. These last 11 months say a lot about his legacy. We like good self correcting in our players. Some players, once they go, they fall off for good. John McEnroe never won a Slam after 25. I don't think you hear too many people right now asking about Federer's need for a coach.

To order a copy of Jon Wertheim's' new book, Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, click here.

 
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