x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Federer seizes the day

Roger Federer wins his first French Open, by beating Robin Soderling, to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 major titles.

Roger Federer falls to his knees after beating Robin Soderling to win his first French Open title at Roland Garros in Paris.
Roger Federer falls to his knees after beating Robin Soderling to win his first French Open title at Roland Garros in Paris.

Roger Federer can now lay claim to being the greatest tennis player of all time after removing the one blot on his otherwise immaculate copybook and winning the French Open at the 11th time of asking yesterday. An emotional 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 victory over Sweden's Robin Soderling in front of an enthralled Roland Garros crowd brought the masterful Federer level with Pete Sampras at the top of the list of open era grand slam winners on 14 titles apiece.

Until last night, neither had triumphed on the European red clay which determines the second major honour of the year - Sampras because his predominantly serve and volley style was not suited to the slower surface; Federer because of the daunting dominance of the Philippe Chatrier arena by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal. With Nadal, four times the French champion and a ruthless destroyer of Federer in last year's final, out of the way thanks to the magnificent efforts of Soderling in the fourth round, the stage was irresistibly set for Federer to put so many years of Gallic grief behind him.

The Swiss seized that opportunity, and, despite a few alarms along the way, notably against Germany's Tommy Haas and Juan Martin Del Potro, of Argentina, both of whom led him in five-set thrillers, he battled his way through to meet the 23rd-seeded Soderling to do battle for the famous Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy. The destiny of that coveted silverware, presented by Andre Agassi who was the previous player to complete the rarity of a career Grand Slam, never looked in doubt. Soderling was less of a threat to Federer than the spectator who somehow found his way on to the court early in the second set, to the embarrassment of the authorities.

Sadly for Soderling, and Swedish hopes of a first triumph here since Mats Wilander 21 years ago, the underdog never came close to reproducing the form that had so sensationally brought the reign of Nadal to an end. Federer was all over him from the outset, the Swiss rushing through the first four games before Soderling knew what had hit him and the first set was over in the blink of an eye, Soderling holding just one of his four service games and never getting close to breaking.

The prospect of Federer humiliating his final opponent in the same 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 fashion as Nadal had embarrassed Federer a year ago loomed large at that stage as the world No 2, again employing profitably the drop shot that had helped him turn around his semi-final against Del Potro, looked completely at ease with the history-making occasion. Soderling, whose pre-match wish for rain to make the conditions heavier was granted - happily not to the extent where the match would have to be stopped - removed the possibility of that repeat scoreline by bravely trading service games with Federer in the second set to earn the reward of tie-break and the chance to draw level.

Fat chance. The Swiss responded to that potential threat to his superiority by playing as good a breaker as any in his career, considering the importance of this one. Remarkably he produced four aces on his four service points and, helped by another punishing drop shot to took in emphatically 7-1. Any hopes of a Soderling revival were effectively crushed by Federer's brilliance in that lottery situation and before the Swede had chance to assess the damage, Federer broke him again at the start of the third set.

History was in the making and Federer was not going to fluff his moment of destiny, although he needed to save what was only the second break point against him in the 1hr 55min contest. The pent-up emotion he has tried to keep under control was then allowed to ooze from his bones as he sank to his knees in tears of joy. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae