'I knew Federer would be best'

Like most tennis observers, Boris Becker predicted an outstanding future for Roger Federer shortly after the Swiss star won the first of his six Wimbledon championships seven years ago.

Roger Federer, seen in Dubai, will defend French title.
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Like most tennis observers, Boris Becker predicted an outstanding future for Roger Federer shortly after the Swiss star won the first of his six Wimbledon championships seven years ago. Becker, the formidable German who had triumphed three times previously at the All England Club in the 1980s, sensed that the all-court brilliance of Federer would eventually earn him the title of the best player of all time.

"I held back from naming Roger as the greatest we've ever seen until he won the French Open last year," said Becker, mindful that Rod Laver, the Australian legend who twice won two Grand Slams, was still keeping an eye on things from his California armchair. "Now there can be no argument." "I never had any real doubts that Roger would eventually become the top player in history but he still had to prove it.

"For him to win the French Open - a tournament he had never won - and then follow it up by winning Wimbledon for the sixth time speaks for itself. "For most guys winning the French Open after so many agonising near misses would have been the signal to have gone off to some island retreat to celebrate for six months or so. "But this guy is not like that. He's the ultimate tennis professional in my eyes.

"His wife had twins last August but he still played in the US Open and reached the final. I'm sure his mind would have been with his family. For him to keep coming back each year is amazing. He defines what you are supposed to do as a good athlete because he breaks every record." Becker, visiting Abu Dhabi recently for the Laureus Sports Awards, said he expects Federer to make a solid defence next week of the Roland Garros title which completed an elusive career Grand Slam.

He said the Swiss now hopes to capture all four major honours in the same calendar year. "There are not many more records open to him," said Becker, about the player who holds 16 grand slam titles and a remarkable total of 62 career titles. "He will never admit it but I'm sure he's thinking about that clean sweep right now. "A lot depends on the French Open in terms of keeping that dream alive. "He is always the favourite at Wimbledon and he's favourite at the US Open so the key tournament has to be Roland Garros."

That does not mean Becker is favouring Federer to retain the honour he captured in floods of tears last year after overcoming Sweden's Robin Soderling in the final. Soderling had shocked the tennis world on the way to his first major final by eliminating what proved to be a less-than-fit Rafael Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, in a remarkable fourth-round encounter. That proved to be Nadal's last match for over two months as the Spaniard underwent intensive treatment on knees that were suffering from severe wear and tear.

Doubts lingered regarding Nadal's capacity to reclaim his position of world dominance after he made an unspectacular return to the tour. Those misgivings have been put to one side as the Spaniard has once again dominated the European clay court season with three more Masters Series victories in Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid. "I would not rule out Nadal for another French Open," Becker said. "He knows everybody is waiting for him to prove himself again in Paris. He can and he will. We forget that clay was the surface that made him a star."

wjohnson@thenational.ae