Close encounter could be just what Federer needed

In this era of two all-time greats, the men's game is full of number-crunching comparisons.

The most discussed stat currently revolves around the number 13 – the amount of Grand Slam titles Roger Federer has won, one shy of Pete Sampras' historical mark.

But with his tenacious victory over clay court specialist Jose Acasuso on Thursday at the French Open, the world No. 2 is close to preserving an often disregarded, yet remarkable streak.

The last time Federer failed to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam was at Roland Garros in 2004, an exceptional feat of consistency worthy of more recognition. It could have ended in the second round against Acasuso, a big-hitting Argentinean who gave Federer all he could handle and more for three sets before falling away toward the end as the Swiss master came through 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-2.

A less focused Federer might have lost in straight sets, but there appears to be a recaptured sense of resilience in the 27-year-old, who has surrendered supremacy to Rafael Nadal at the top of the men's game.

Some will use this close shave with Acasuso as evidence of Federer's vulnerability, but it could turn out that a tough scrap was just what he needed.

"Mentally, I've always been very strong, but I'm not being put in a position like this very often," Federer said. "Coming through such a match is always a great feeling. Like I said, I'm not part of such close matches that often."

Federer has never had any doubt in his ability to play at the highest level and he will go down in history as perhaps the most gifted player tennis has seen. What Nadal exposed in winning their epic 2008 Wimbledon final and their five-setter at the Australian Open was Federer's difficulty in firing when the pressure was on.

A tense shootout with a tricky second-round underdog carries different challenges to facing Nadal in a final, yet Federer will approach the end of Week 1 feeling pretty good about himself.


Image via Associated Press

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