Pete Sampras tried 13 times to win a French Open and 13 times he failed.
Roger Federer, who is surely destined to surpass the American’s 14 Grand Slam titles, is about to embark on his 10th attempt to solve the intricate mysteries of the Roland Garros clay.
However, it’s the world No. 1’s misfortune that his campaign to go one better than Sampras has consistently run into the Spanish brick wall that is Rafael Nadal, the triple champion.
Federer has lost the last two finals to the 21-year-old.
The 12-time Grand Slam title winner, is also enduring, by his lofty standards, a poor season having lost his Australian Open title, suffered glandular fever and been beaten by Nadal in the finals in Monte Carlo and Hamburg.
“Many people say that this year is the beginning of the end. What do you think?” asked a reporter when Federer was knocked out of the Rome Masters in the quarter-finals by Radek Stepanek, a man best known for being Martina Hingis’s ex-fiance.
“Next question, please,” Federer fired back.
But the questions are piling up.
The 26-year-old’s loss in Hamburg took him to a 1-8 record against Nadal on clay while, in both the Monte Carlo and Hamburg finals, he surrendered healthy leads.
If that wasn’t worrying enough, there is the growing threat posed to both men by Novak Djokovic, the world Number 3 and the best player in the world this year.
The Serbian, who took Federer’s Australian Open title and showed his ability on clay with the Rome trophy, only turned 21 yesterday.
“Federer has just two or three years to realize his dream,” said Sampras, when asked if the Swiss will ever win Roland Garros.
“He has the game to do it but things need to fall into place for him. Once he hits 29 or 30 the Djokovics and Nadals will be in their prime and it’ll become a little tougher,” said Sampras, whose best showing at Rolland Garros in 13 attempts was the semi-finals in 1996.
Federer, who has six claycourt titles in his 54-trophy collection, is nothing if not positive.
“I’m pushing Rafa and I have the feeling I can beat him if I play the right way,” he said.