- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2011

PARIS (AP) - Rafael Nadal is gaining on Roger Federer. Quickly.

By winning four of the past five Grand Slam tournaments _ capped by a victory over Federer in the French Open final _ Nadal has raised his career haul to 10 major championships. That’s only six fewer than Federer’s proudly held record of 16.

“Ten Grand Slams is a lot,” Federer said. “He knows this. I know this. Everybody knows this.”

Seven men in the history of tennis have managed to win at least that many: Federer, Pete Sampras (14), Roy Emerson (12), Bjorn Borg (11), Rod Laver (11), Bill Tilden (10), and Nadal.

Of that group, only Borg was younger when he cradled his 10th Grand Slam trophy than Nadal, who was two days past his 25th birthday when he beat Federer 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 Sunday at Roland Garros.

Nadal’s six French Open trophies _ tying Borg’s record for the most in Paris _ now sit alongside two from Wimbledon and one apiece from the U.S. Open and Australian Open.

“If I win this tournament, I know my year is fantastic,” Nadal said Sunday evening. “You are able to play with less pressure the rest of the season. You are able to keep playing … with the same positive attitude … but with less pressure than before and with better confidence than before.”

When Federer was winning Grand Slam title after Grand Slam title _ three per season in 2004, 2006 and 2007, for example _ many assumed it was the sort of display that wouldn’t be duplicated, at least not anytime soon.

But Nadal is putting together the same sort of run, with two major championships in 2008 and three last season. The Spaniard is about six months younger than Federer was when he collected his 10th Grand Slam title at the 2007 Australian Open.

Nadal leads their head-to-head series 17-8. More significantly, Federer is 2-6 against Nadal in major finals, 14-1 against everyone else. That’s part of why the Grand Slam gap between them is narrowing: Not only is Nadal picking up titles, he’s also preventing Federer from adding to his total.

All of which leads some to say Nadal is on his way to being considered the best tennis player in history.

Andre Agassi, for one, thinks that discussion is still open.

“While Rafa can say, ‘He might be the best of all time, but I beat him and I was better than him,’ I do believe that you have to leave a little room for matchup. Some people can just be inherently at a disadvantage, based on a certain style of play,” said Agassi, who retired in 2006 with eight Grand Slam titles.

“Will it take Rafa as many Slams to prove that he’s better than Roger? I don’t think so. But you have to separate yourself from the field. That’s what makes somebody great: how far you separate yourself from the field, across all surfaces,” added Agassi, who completed his career Grand Slam by winning the 1999 French Open.

“Rafa’s won a couple at Wimbledon. Roger, if not for Rafa, would have won four or five (at Roland Garros). I think Roger has separated himself from the field more in his time than Rafa has done yet. But there’s still time for Rafa.”

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