Roger Federer returns to French Open on 10th anniversary of title, 20th anniversary of debut

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Roger Federer called it the most satisfying win of his career, next to his maiden Wimbledon title. Ten years ago, he at last conquered the red clay of Paris, capturing his first French Open title to complete the career Grand Slam.

It remains Federer’s lone Coupe des Mousquetaires as he returns this week to play the tournament for the first time since 2015. Many have speculated this could be the 37-year-old’s French farewell, but the most important voice has repeatedly shot that down.

“How much longer am I going to play? I wish I knew,” Federer said on ESPN at the Miami Open in March. “We’re not thinking about retirement because the more I think about it and the more I talk about it, the closer I am to it. I have no plans. There was talk about [retiring after] the Tokyo Olympics and all that, but that’s not true.”

Federer spoke again Friday, one day before the 20th anniversary of his first Grand Slam main-draw match and two days before he opens play against Italian Lorenzo Sonego. He said he didn’t know if he can win this year. The No. 3 seed, he reached the quarterfinals of his two clay events earlier this month.

In some ways, Federer feels similar to how he did going into the 2017 Australian Open, after missing the 2016 Olympics and U.S. Open due to a knee injury and seeing his ranking fall to No. 17. Federer then won the Australian Open, his first major in four and a half years, igniting a late 30s resurgence.

“A bit of the unknown,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I’m not sure if it’s in my racket.”

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In 2009, Federer came to the French Open with a hint of desperation that he had been carrying for three years. Rafael Nadal beat him in the semifinals in 2005 and the final in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the last one a clinical 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in a tidy 108 minutes.

“I was like, man, how many more chances do I need to get the title?” Federer said not of 2008 but of 2006, the first of consecutive years he came to Paris seeking to complete the Roger Slam — holding all four major titles at once.

The chance in 2009 became an opportunity when Nadal was upset by Swede Robin Soderling in the round of 16. It ended a 31-match win streak to start Nadal’s Roland Garros career and closed his path to a fifth straight French Open title.

“My dream scenario is to beat Rafa here in the finals,” Federer said the next day, after coming from two sets down to outlast Tommy Haas, adding later, “I knew the day Rafa won’t be in the finals, I will be there and I will win. I always knew and that I believed in it.

“Even though people said, oh, he’s got to go through Rafa to win this title, I knew it wasn’t particularly the case because you can’t be in every Grand Slam final.”

So it happened. Federer and Soderling met on a windy, occasionally rainy Sunday with Bjorn Borg, Tony Parker and Eva Longoria in attendance. Federer spent the previous night watching CDs of his two most recent matches with Soderling, who had taken just one set in their nine career meetings.

It turned out to be one of Federer’s easier matches of the two weeks, a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 affirmation.

“I felt like I just played three, four finals of French Open this week because everybody expected me to win. It’s an unbelievable relief of pressure,” Federer said. “Of course there’s no Nadal on the other side of the net, but I beat him a couple of weeks ago on clay [in the Madrid final], so I really feel like I deserve it.”

It marked Federer’s 14th Grand Slam singles title, tying Pete Sampras‘ record. Federer is now at 20, Nadal at 17 and Novak Djokovic at 15. The greatest-ever debate is now fluid, but a decade ago John McEnroe asked Federer, as he cradled the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Court Philippe Chatrier, how it felt to be the GOAT.

“Am I the greatest of all time? We don’t know, but I definitely have many things going for me,” Federer said.

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Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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MORE: Olympic marathon moved from Tokyo to another Olympic host city

Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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