Last year Roger Federer made history at the French Open with a win; this year he did so with a loss. Indeed, while Federer both clinched the career Grand Slam and equaled Pete Sampras' then-record mark of fourteen career Slams with his breakthrough triumph at Roland Garros in 2009, this year his quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Robin Soderling produced a perhaps more startling record: the end of his consecutive Grand Slam semifinal streak.
And as Yahoo!'s Chris Chase explains, Federer's record of 23 straight semifinals is one of the all-time great marks in all of sports:
Though the record doesn't have the cachet of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak or the staggering longevity of Cal Ripken's consecutive games mark, it should end up standing alongside those hallowed baseball streaks as the most impressive in the history of sport.[...] At the time Federer's streak began, the Open era record for most consecutive semifinal appearances was 10. Ivan Lendl held the record, which had stood at six before he broke it.
The term "mind-boggling" gets bandied about much too frequently, but in this case it's more than applicable. Consider: to reach this milestone, Federer had to demonstrate superiority in three areas: durability, consistency and versatility.
Durability: This one is straightforward. Obviously, to reach 23 straight semifinals, you need to play in 23 straight Slams -- something Federer's only real rival, Nadal, has certainly struggled with, thanks to his own physically taxing style of play. That Federer can dominate without pushing his body to the breaking point is one of the most underrated aspects of his reign over the tennis world. As a coda, remember that Federer reached every Slam semifinal in 2008 despite being hampered by mononucleosis at the time.
Consistency: Federer simply does not lose to bad players. At least not in Grand Slams. Falling to Marat Safin in an epic five-setter in the semifinals of the 2005 Australian Open was the closest Federer came to doing so, but Safin had one of his rare fits of trying during that tournament, so it certainly wasn't an embarrassing loss.
- Versatility: This is indubitably the most impressive facet of Federer's streak. Few players boast the variegated, all-court game to go far in all four majors. In fact, perhaps no one else does. Indeed, Nadal's hard court game is still a bit of a question mark despite capturing the Aussie Open last year, and while Novak Djokovic actually accomplished the feat of reaching every Slam semifinal in 2007, he's more or less unraveled since then. Clay courts are considered Federer's only "weakness" (witness his loss to Soderling on Tuesday), but the fact remains that were it not for the emergence of arguably the greatest clay-courter the game has ever seen in Nadal, that Federer would likely have taken home five French Open titles at this point.
For more on Federer and all things French Open, check out our tennis blog, The Daily Forehand.