It's well-known that world No. 1 Roger Federer has won 15 major titles in his career. Less known, but just as significant, is that at Wimbledon Federer reached his 20th major final, breaking the previous record held by Ivan Lendl.
In the major finals he's played since 2003, patterns have emerged despite the variety of opponents and playing styles he has faced.
Perhaps by studying those past finals his opponent, world No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, can make Monday's final a great one; based on Federer's track record in these events, help is something del Potro's definitely going to need.
2003 Wimbledon: d. Mark Philippoussis 7-6, 6-2, 7-6
2004 Australian Open: d. Marat Safin 7-6, 6-4, 6-2
2006 Australian Open: d. Marcos Baghdatis 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2
2007 Australian Open: d. Fernando Gonzalez 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
That Federer has more options than the rest of the tour is by now not a secret. However, in nearly a third of his wins, the opposition has hung tough with The Great Swiss for a set, maybe more.
Sometimes, in the case of Baghdatis or Gonzo, they were the tournament's hot hand and played more aggressively than Federer at the start.
In the cases of Safin and Philippoussis, big serving probably did a lot to prevent the match from being a mismatch from the start, and gave them a chance, however slight.
When that chance slipped away, however, the match was essentially over. Federer, once ahead, can swing more freely and put more of his options into practice, leaving the competition to eat his dust.
The 2006 AO final was probably the best example of this; the loose, free-swinging Baghdatis outplayed Federer in set one, and stayed close in set two.
When Federer got the break to win the second set; however, the Cypriot was never really in the match thereafter; he was watching like the rest of us as Federer denied him all but two more games.
2004 US Open: d. Lleyton Hewitt 6-0, 7-6, 6-0
2005 Wimbledon: d. Andy Roddick 6-2, 7-6, 6-4
2005 US Open: d. Andre Agassi 6-3, 2-6, 7-6, 6-1
2006 Wimbledon: d. Rafael Nadal 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3
2006 US Open: d. Andy Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1
2008 US Open: d. Andy Murray 6-2, 7-5, 6-2
2009 Roland Garros: d. Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6, 6-4
In the very early stages of his reign at No. 1, Federer tended to rely on this more complete game to allow him to eventually pull away from his opponents.
That all changed at the 2004 US Open, when he put the pieces together early, running up the score early against Hewitt and cranking winners from all over the court. This is a scenario that has duplicated itself many times since then as Federer has grown more and more used to the finals experience.
Even in these cases, though, his opponents have typically been allowed to hope, as Federer's level drops somewhat in the second set. Only Agassi, Nadal, and Roddick were actually able to win a set from him at this stage and make a match of it, though.
The opponents on this list, by the way, tend to be those Federer is most familiar with. In the cases of Hewitt, Roddick, Agassi, and Soderling, he had played and defeated them in numerous matches leading up to that point.
In the case of the 2006 Wimbledon final, he was a far more experienced grass court player than Nadal. At last year's Open, he was far more experienced in major finals than Murray.
In all cases, though, he seemingly went into the match with an even greater chunk of confidence than usual.
2004 Wimbledon: d. Andy Roddick 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4
2007 Wimbledon: d. Rafael Nadal 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-2
2007 US Open: d. Novak Djokovic 7-6, 7-6, 6-4
2009 Wimbledon: d. Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 16-14
This is a special category of finals, distinguished from the rest of those Federer won in that the opponent managed to keep the match close and competitive throughout it's duration.
Nadal did lose the fifth set of their 2007 Wimbledon encounter by a lopsided score, but not until after he had played The Great Swiss virtually even for four sets and several hours. Djokovic could not quite win a set in the 2007 Open final, but never really allowed Federer to pull away until the very end.
In fact, in the trophy presentation Federer stated that Djokovic deserved better than a straight-sets loss.
Roddick's Wimbledon losses were particularly heartbreaking, as he was leading prior to a rain delay in 2004 and was one missed volley from a two-sets lead this year.
Federer's opponents in each of these sets showed something not seen often enough, and that was the belief that they belonged on the court with Federer and deserved to win as much as him.
In the end, though, Federer showed that he doesn't have to beat them just with his skills on court; his heart is a weapon in and of itself.
2006 Roland Garros: l. to Rafael Nadal 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6
2007 Roland Garros: l. to Rafael Nadal 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
2008 Roland Garros: l. to Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-3, 6-0
2008 Wimbledon: l. to Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7
2009 Australian Open: l. to Rafael Nadal 7-5, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2
Though Roddick, Djokovic and Agassi have put up respectable scores, only one man has ever come out on top against Federer in a Grand Slam final. He's done so on five occasions, at three different venues, and on three different surfaces.
Nadal has thus far succeeded where others have failed for multiple reasons. It's been widely discussed that players with great defense can bother to the Swiss.
It's also well-known that Nadal's forehand generates spin of up to 5,000 rotations per minute, presenting a unique challenge for Federer's one-handed backhand.
It was the Wimbledon final of last year and the AO final this year that revealed Nadal's greatest asset: his relentlessness. Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic have shown mental toughness against Federer, but at times the Spaniard shows a determination that borders on denial.
On a tour full of people who seem aware, at least subconsciously, that the Swiss is tennis royalty, Nadal is more athletic Guy Fawkes.
The ability to shrug off setbacks like the first set of the RG 2006, the match points that got away in Wimbledon last year, and the sets in this year's AO where he was clearly outplayed are what has separated Nadal from the rest of Federer's opponents.
Nadal has had much less success in reaching major finals than Federer has, however. Juan Martin del Potro, thanks to his huge serving and cannonball groundstrokes eliminated the Spaniard on Sunday, putting him in his first major final.
Del Potro' was successful because his game matches up well with Nadal: his flat shots deny Nadal the chance to defend, and end points too quickly for the Spaniard to grind his way into the match. Will that awesome display carry over against Federer?
It's doubtful, as that matchup isn't as good for the Argentine; Fernando Gonzalez and Robin Soderling were able to accomplish similar tasks against Nadal at the 2007 AO and this year's RG, but their games played right into the hands of Federer.
Even when they took the offensive, he could defend well enough to retrieve their shots, but they could not do the same when he was on the attack.
Furthermore, like them, del Potro takes a poor record against The Great Swiss into the final. In six previous matches, the young Argentine has won only two sets from Federer.
But unlike Gonzo or Le Sod, whose finals appearances were total surprises, del Potro is a credible top 10 player and has been for more than a year. Those two were also in their mid-20s (middle aged for tennis players) reaching their first-ever finals; del Potro is 20 for another week.
That the two sets he won from Federer were both in the Roland Garros semis of this year is another sign of his ongoing growth as a player.
But there are a few things del Potro absolutely must do to have a chance here: 1) He must start strong, because Federer is 12-1 when winning the first set of a major final, and 3-4 when losing it 2) he must believe than he deserves to win as much as Federer, and must sustain that belief for five sets, if necessary, and 3) he must be fortunate, because Andy Roddick has already proven that a player can do everything right against the Swiss and still lose.
Ultimately, it's very hard not to favor the Swiss, who has been in this situation exactly 20 times more than the Argentine, and whose game matches up well with del Potro's.
But, as they say, that's why they play the matches.