Bryan Armen Graham
Tuesday June 9th, 2009

In the afterglow of Roger Federer's historic French Open victory, the greatest-of-all-time debate seems as open-and-shut as ever. Pretty remarkable, considering just three weeks ago Federer was a fading legend who'd gone eight months without a singles title.

Federer, who joined Andre Agassi as the only players to achieve the career Grand Slam on three different surfaces, also tied Pete Sampras' record of 14 major titles. Sampras was first in line to pass the best-ever mantle down to Federer.

"What he's done over the past five years has never, ever been done -- and probably will never, ever happen again," Sampras told The Associated Press. "Regardless if he won [in Paris] or not, he goes down as the greatest ever. This just confirms it."

Former top five player Tim Henman provided another endorsement, giving Federer the edge over Sampras.

"Sampras was a phenomenal player and his record speaks for itself, but you always felt there were aspects of his game that you could target," Henman wrote in a tribute for the BBC. "Sampras never really returned that well, so as long as you were being disciplined on your serve, you could stay in touch, get to a tiebreak and then anything can happen. Against Federer, whether you were serving or returning, you knew you had to work unbelievably hard for every point, every game."

The numbers make a compelling case in Federer's favor, as does his colleagues' support. But really, we needn't have looked beyond how this man conducts business on the court. Words can't quite describe the high art of Federer in top form, though some writers have come close. (If you've never read "Roger Federer as Religious Experience" by the late, great David Foster Wallace, there's no better time.)

Still, amid nearly universal praise, esteemed tennis journalist and commentator Bud Collins injected some sobering dissent.

"I do not think we can call him the greatest tennis player of all time yet," Collins said on ESPN. "He's got this guy [Rafael] Nadal who beats him in big occasions -- the last Wimbledon, this year's Australian Open. Who knows? Nadal is a very young guy."

The observation echoed one many Federer skeptics make: How can Federer be considered the greatest player across all eras if he's not indisputably the best player of his own?

Collins alluded to Federer's spotty record -- to put it politely -- against his longtime Spanish foil. He's lost 13 of their 20 all-time meetings, including their past three showdowns in Grand Slam finals. Collins didn't even touch on Federer's record against the man ranked one slot below him: No. 3 Andy Murray, against whom Federer has won just twice in eight tries. Such sparse success against two of his contemporaries undercuts Federer's G.O.A.T. case.

Maybe Federer isn't a slam-dunk best-ever pick. So what? This isn't the time to eulogize Federer and reflect on his accomplishments as though the 27-year-old's career were over.

Federer's next task -- along with reversing his Nadal and Murray hoodoo -- will be setting the bar higher for the next great player down the road. Folks talk about how Federer "completed his résumé" with his French Open victory against Robin Soderling, but it's likely he's yet to add the last, best bullets to his CV.

Heading into Wimbledon, no story's more prominent than Nadal's left knee. Specifically, will the knee, which has bothered him for months, heal enough to allow the world's top-ranked player to defend his title at the grass-court major, which begins June 22?

Nadal spent the past three days undergoing tests in Barcelona under the supervision of Dr. Angel Ruiz-Cotorro. He promised fans he'd issue a statement on his fitness Tuesday on his Web site -- which, under a deluge of international traffic, crashed faster than James Blake in Paris.

While Nadal didn't supply a definitive answer, he promised he'd do everything in his power to participate.

"I am going to give my 200 percent to be ready for the most important tournament in the world. The tournament that I always dream about," Nadal wrote. "I will not go out and play, especially on the Wimbledon Centre Court, if I am not 100 percent ready to play.

"I have two difficult weeks ahead of me, especially because I won't be doing what I like doing most, which is to play tennis, but I will be working on my recovery through physiotherapy treatments as well as recovery work on the specific muscular area.''

Michelle Larcher de Brito, 16, of Portugal made plenty of headlines at the French Open for her second-round upset of No. 15 seed Zheng Jie, but she may have made even more for her piercing on-court shrieks, which drew sharp criticism from spectators and opponents alike.

Larcher de Brito's antics earned her a powwow with tournament referee Stefan Fransson. But if Martina Navratilova gets her way, grunters like Larcher de Brito will face stiff penalties for distracting their opponent

"Grunting, screeching, shrieking, whatever you want to call it," Navratilova wrote in the Times Online. "I call it cheating and it's got to stop."

Navratalova stressed the importance sounds plays in a match, noting a player can hear a bad shot before he or she can see it. She hopes officials will come down on this "awful, deafening and unfair trend."

"Rules must be changed, players must be warned. If they don't stop, they must have points deducted," Navratalova wrote. "I can see people turning off their TV sets because the noise players make is abhorrent."

Acknowledging court intruders with press attention sets a dangerous precedent. But the story behind the lunatic who stormed the terre battue during Sunday's men's final is just too colorful to ignore.

Jaume Marquet Cot -- better known as Jimmy Jump -- is a Spanish real estate agent by day and notorious pitch invader by night. He's got his own Wikipedia page and self-promotional Web site, where he hawks T-shirts and brags about his exploits. The most recent headline screams: JIMMY CONQUERS AGAIN THE TENNIS WORLD.

He's also the central subject of the documentary film Jump! The World's Greatest Streakers, which examines (among other episodes) his famous sprint onto the pitch during the Euro 2004 final between Greece and Portugal.

With Federer leading 6-1, 2-1, Jump hopped onto the court and ran toward Federer before security officials intervened. French authorities arrested the trespasser, who faces up to a year in prison for his antics.

And shame on anyone who assumed Jump was a Nadal fan because of his FC Barcelona flag; everybody knows Rafa supports Real Madrid.

Plenty of celebs from both sides of the pond took in action at Roland Garros, including Tony Parker, Eva Longoria, Isabelle Adjani, Rachel Bilson, Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.

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