Federer can tie Sampras, complete career Grand Slam

PARIS - All of Roger Federer's bad memories from past French Open finals could be wiped away today.

All of those so-close-yet-so-far bids to win the only Grand Slam title to elude him could fade with just one victory.

If he beats 23rd-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden in the final at Roland Garros, Federer will tie Pete Sampras' record of 14 major championships and complete a career Grand Slam - at least one trophy from each of tennis' four most prestigious tournaments.

As much as Federer already has done, one French Open championship could forever alter the Swiss star's place in history. No one knows that better than Andre Agassi, whose 1999 French Open title made him the fifth - and most recent - man with a career Grand Slam, changing the way he and others view his career.

'Every surface, every condition, demands something different from you, and also rewards you differently, as well, from the physical

challenges that exist, to the mental challenges. It's highlighted by the fact that it doesn't get done too often,' Agassi said during an appearance at Roland Garros with his wife, Steffi Graf, to promote their charitable foundations.

'I'm pulling for Roger tomorrow,' Agassi added, 'because I think he's earned this opportunity. I think, in many respects, he deserves it.'

Federer's influence in the sport extends beyond the court: The winner of the French Open women's championship Saturday, Svetlana Kuznetsova, pointed to a conversation with Federer at last year's Beijing Olympics as a pivotal moment for her.

Kuznetsova was down in the dumps after losing at the Summer Games and was trying to decide whether to keep training in Spain or return home to Russia. Some friends pushed her to ask Federer to pose for a photo, and Kuznetsova wound up speaking to him at length for the first time.

'He say, 'Look, you can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can concentrate and live in Moscow, do this. If you cannot, only you can judge,' she recalled after beating Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-2 for her first French Open title.

Kuznetsova, like many players, is pulling for Federer to get his first. They all know how near he's come, losing to Spain's Rafael Nadal in the past three French Open finals and the 2005 semifinals.

'If it wasn't for one sort of freak of nature from Mallorca,' Agassi said, 'he would have won this tournament, probably, already a handful of times.'

It must have come as something of a relief for Federer when Soderling upset Nadal in the fourth round last weekend. Forget about Federer's 9-0 record against Soderling: Playing anyone other than Nadal on the last Sunday in Paris is a welcome difference.

'Look, there's no easy Grand Slam finals,' said Federer, who is in his record-tying 19th such match, while Soderling is appearing in his first. 'I cannot, obviously, underestimate Robin ... but obviously it's nice to see someone else, for a change.'