x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Soderling reaches first grand slam final in Paris

Robin Soderling comes from 4-1 down in the final set to beat Fernando Gonzalez in a riveting battle of the big hitters to reach the French Open final.

The Swede Robin Soderling fought back from 4-1 down in the final set to reach the final at Roland Garros.
The Swede Robin Soderling fought back from 4-1 down in the final set to reach the final at Roland Garros.

Just as it looked like Robin Soderling's sensational French Open adventure was coming to an unsatisfactory end, the Swede somehow found a new lease of life to snatch a thrilling victory over fellow giantkiller Fernando Gonzalez in a gripping semi-final battle which lasted almost three and a half hours. It seemed appropriate that Soderling should be rewarded for his stunning fourth-round conquest over the "King of Clay" Rafael Nadal with a place in his first grand slam final. The 12th-seeded Gonzalez understandably did not share that romantic view. The destructive Chilean, whose ferocious forehand had overpowered world No 3 Andy Murray in the quarter-finals, was determined to follow up his appearance in the 2007 Australian Open final with another showpiece occasion here and was on the brink of fulfilling that objective when he led 3-0 in the deciding set.

At that stage, Soderling was lamenting his failure to close out the match in straight sets after having clearly the better of the first two. But, having come so far, he was in no mood for a tame exit and hit back to claim a 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory. "Unbelievable match," screamed Soderling as he took in the enormity of his achievement which was witnessed by his illustrious Swedish predecessor Bjorn Borg who won this event six times between 1974 and 1981. Borg was noted for his indefatigable fighting spirit in that splendid era which also brought him five successive Wimbledon titles and he would have been proud of the way Soderling became his country's first French Open finalist since his coach Magnus Norman eight years ago.

The first of the semi-finals was billed as the battle of the forehands but neither player rediscovered the level of penetration they had found in their respective clashes with Nadal and Murray in the early stages. Soderling's was marginally the more reliable early on and that enabled the 23rd seed to retrieve a break against him and make two of his own to claim the opening set. The second set went with serve until Soderling, who saved a set point at 4-5, converted the fourth break point which came his way in the next game, courtesy of a hooked Gonzalez forehand. The Chilean, who has amassed nine clay court titles in his career, realised that error was going to put him two sets down and smashed his racket into the dirt in disgust.

Thoughts of him being ground into the dust were well off the mark though as he forced Soderling into two expensive forehand errors which decided a third set which was even tighter than the second. And it was a similar story in the fourth which went with serve until the 10th game when a mis-hit return by Gonzalez on set point turned into an unlikely winner.

The momentum was now with Gonzalez and he endorsed that by racing to his commanding lead in the decider but Soderling has been a revelation in Paris this springtime and he is now on the verge of something special when he takes on Roger Federer in Sunday's final. wjohnson@thenational.ae