PARIS (Reuters) - If there was any lingering doubt about whether Roger Federer was the greatest player to pick up a tennis racket, he provided the answer at 1509 GMT on Sunday.
The stylish Swiss showed his versatility by getting his hands on the Musketeers’ Cup at the French Open to complete his collection of grand slam titles. Job done, Federer started to rake in the records and the accolades.
He was the proud owner of a record-equalling 14th major trophy, drawing level with Pete Sampras, and he joined Don Budge, Fred Perry, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi as the only men to win all four slams.
Only American Agassi had succeeded on three different surfaces since until the 1970s, all the slams barring the French Open were played on grass.
“It ends the discussion of where he fits in the history of the game,” said Agassi, who handed over the trophy to Federer.
“This is going to mean so much to him, to have that hole filled. I think it will change his life.”
His fellow American Billie Jean King shared the admiration.
“His win today at the French Open, tying Pete Sampras’s record for major titles and the completion of a career grand slam firmly places him in a special place as the greatest player of all time,” she told Reuters in an email.
“He has earned his place and he has proven he belongs. Roger is a champion for the ages.”
To put Federer’s feat into context, one has to marvel at the size of the obstacle he had just cleared.
Since 2005, four-times Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal had assumed the role of being Federer’s personal tormentor, beating the Swiss four times in Paris, including the last three finals.
Each time the Swiss arrived hoping to complete a career slam and each time the Spaniard sucked the life-blood out of him, particularly in last year’s final when Federer won a measly four games.
Two soul-destroying five-set final losses to Nadal at last year’s Wimbledon and the Australian Open in January turned Federer into a sobbing wreck.
“If it hadn’t been for the freak from Mallorca, Federer would have won all the slams a few times,” Agassi said.
Nadal also stole Federer’s number one ranking last August, ending a reign that had lasted a record 237 consecutive weeks.
But just when it seemed that Federer would join the likes of Sampras and John McEnroe by never conquering Roland Garros, a golden opportunity dropped into his lap when the freak from Mallorca was knocked out by Robin Soderling.
After the most nerve-jangling journey of his career, Federer climbed the summit and the view looked good from the top.
“He’s tried to win it for many years, and he was very unfortunate losing three finals and one semi-final,” Nadal said before returning to Mallorca. “If one guy deserves it, that’s him.”
While the past seven days might have felt like the slowest week in Federer’s life, his pursuit of Sampras’s record has been a fast one.
It took the American 12 years to fill his trophy cabinet, Federer scooped up number 14 in just under six.
When Sampras broke Australian Emerson’s previous record of 12 at Wimbledon in 2000, the American thought he too was in for a long reign.
“In the modern game it could be difficult. The next person might be eight years old hitting around the park somewhere in the world,” Sampras, who won his final major at the 2002 U.S. Open, said at the time.
Little did he know Federer’s park would soon turn out to be the Centre Courts at Wimbledon, Flushing Meadows, Roland Garros and Melbourne Park.
The record that was supposed to survive a lifetime was equalled in under seven years.
“I didn’t think it would only take seven years to tie it. It feels like I’m in good company with Roger,” Sampras told ATPWorldTour.com. “If there was someone I would want to be tied with and maybe one day my record to be broken, I hoped it would be someone like Roger.”
Additional reporting by Larry Fine in New York; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org