Will Rafael Nadal Protect Pete Sampras' Last Big Record?

Pete Sampras waves goodbye after he announced his retirement from tennis at a news conference Monday, Aug. 25, 2003 at the US Open tennis tournament in New York.
AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

If he wasn't rooting for Rafael Nadal before, Pete Sampras should definitely be cheering for the rampaging Spaniard to take his sixth French Open crown this Sunday. If Nadal wins, he will depose Federer from the No. 1 ranking -- and also protect one of Sampras' remaining career milestones.

If Federer loses the No. 1 ranking next week, he will fall one week short of equaling Sampras' all-time record of 286 weeks cumulative at No. 1.

And there's little chance of Federer bouncing back to No. 1 this summer -- unless Nadal gets hit by a bus! Federer has many points to defend, including his Wimbledon title; while Nadal can only pick up points in the next few months, since he was injured this time last year.

So it's possible that Federer will fall one week short of equaling Sampras' total of 286 total weeks at No. 1. You have to think that at 28 years old (turning 29 in August), that this past year was probably Federer's last run in the No. 1 slot. Which means that the list of players who remained the most weeks at No. 1 would look like this:

1. Pete Sampras 286 weeks
2. Roger Federer 285 weeks
3. Ivan Lendl 270 weeks
4. Jimmy Connors 268 weeks
5. John McEnroe 170 weeks

CBSSports.com: Complete list of players to hold No. 1 ranking

When he retired in 2002 (with a flourish after winning the U.S. Open), Sampras must have thought that his records would stand for many years -- most grand slams, most weeks at No. 1 cumulatively, most weeks at No. 1 consecutively, etc. Sampras thought he would be hailed -- rightfully so -- as the greatest player of the Open era.

Flash forward eight years, and Federer has eclipsed many of Sampras' marks, and has stolen away the GOAT title -- Greatest of All Time. After six years of watching Federer win everything in sight, it would be fitting if Sampras could hang onto one of his few remaining all-time marks.

This is no disrespect to Roger Federer, who in a peerless run since 2003 has set a standard of excellence unparalleled in the sport. It is the curse of his unrelenting greatness that people are happy for the rare player here and there who manages to snatch away a bit of glory from the Federer juggernaut.

Although his reign at No. 1 will end, Federer still has a few years of being a dangerous floater capable of adding grand slams to his current total of 16. But at the twilight of his career he will find -- as he has this spring -- that it's a hard slog to bring his game week in and week out to be the top player in the world.

Federer will lose the No. 1 ranking sometime in the next few weeks as Nadal makes up for all the points he didn't accrue while sitting out injured last summer.

The only question is the timing -- and for Federer (and Sampras) a week or two can make all the difference.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.