Roger Federer already has what Novak Djokovic desires: a French Open title. However, among his 17 Grand Slam titles, Federer has won only one at Roland Garros.
Nearing the end of his career, Federer may be more desperate for a win at Roland Garros than Djokovic.
Federer takes on Djokovic in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday. Despite a No. 2 ranking and "all-time great" status, Federer has less of a chance of winning the French Open than No. 6, Kei Nishikori, according to Odds Shark.
All the pre-tournament buzz centers around Djokovic's quest for a first title and Rafael Nadal's pursuit of a 10th.
According to Federer, Djokovic's win over Nadal at Monte Carlo and Andy Murray's victory over the Spaniard in Rome change little when it comes to the real favorite at Roland Garros. Federer told the Independent that Nadal is still the man to beat.
"Regardless of what anyone says to me he’s the favorite...The guy’s only lost [at Roland Garros] once in 10 years. No way past that guy being the absolute favorite for that tournament.”
Federer's lone win at Roland Garros came in 2009, when he defeated Robin Soderling, who had knocked Nadal out in the fourth round.
At the time, a relieved and exuberant Federer believed he had finally quieted the critics. In an interview with the New York Times, Federer declared, "This could be my biggest victory, the one that takes off the most pressure...Now for the rest of my career, I can play relaxed and never hear again that I never won the French Open."
The pressure subsided. But it's still there. Instead of, "Will he ever?" it's now, "Can he ever, again?"
It's not that Federer has played poorly at Roland Garros. He's reached the finals at the French Open the same number of times as he has at the Australian Open.
However, Federer is 1-4 in French Open finals and 4-1 in championship matches at the Australian Open. He is 7-2 in Wimbledon finals and 5-1 at the U.S. Open.
With Nadal, the major roadblock to winning the title, diminished, Federer must feel a sense of urgency. It's now, or maybe never again.
The year before Federer won his first French Open, Nadal embarrassed him. In one of the most lopsided French Open finals, Nadal beat Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. It marked the first time Federer had been bageled in a set at a Grand Slam since Pat Rafter beat him in the 1999 French Open. Federer was only 17 at the time. It was also his first time playing in the main draw of the French Open.
Federer remembers that match fondly. Last year, when asked about it, Federer told reporters he was just happy to have a wild card. "I mean, I knew I wouldn't end up winning the match. But it's like a carrot you give to a donkey, you know, but it was great."
When Federer started racking up Slams, it seemed a few French Open titles were inevitable. But along came Rafa. Federer has yet to conquer Nadal and Roland Garros at the same time.
With a record 17 Slams, Federer's status among the greats is secure. However, the lone French Open, as well as his one-sided record against Nadal, is the thinnest part of Federer's portfolio.
Given his three-year Grand Slam title drought, Federer would be ecstatic about winning any Slam. However, another French Open title would be doubly sweet.
Though the future is uncertain, this year is shaping up to be perhaps Federer's last decent chance to pull it off. Nadal looks as vulnerable as ever. Neither Djokovic nor Murray have ever won. Federer at least has that edge.
He seems to have found a balance between rest (skipping Miami) and clay-court prep (adding Istanbul) leading up to the French Open.
Reaching the final in Rome suggests Federer may be peaking at just the right time.
With the clock ticking on his career, Federer has less time to worry about rivalries. He's focusing his energy on legacy. A victory over Nadal, however sweet, means little if it comes outside of the final. Another French Open title, even if it's over a qualifier, goes into the record books. It solidifies Federer's standing as the greatest of all time.
Another French Open title: Federer no longer needs it. But he wants it, desperately.