Roger and Robin To Play French Final
June 5, 2009 -- In the fourth game of the fourth set, Roger Federer broke Juan Martin Del Potro's serve. It was the first break for Federer. And, it was the game that spun this men's semifinal match away from the Argentine and toward Federer. Before that, Del Potro had dominated Federer with huge serve and groundstrokes that pinned him to the baseline and gave him little to no room to maneuver.
However, after almost four hours of demanding play Federer defeated Del Potro 36 76 (2) 26 61 64, making his way to his fourth consecutive men's singles final at Roland Garros. He will play for the only major title he has not won; and, he will face a man no one would have predicted -- Robin Soderling.
Soderling defeated Fernando Gonzalez in the other men's semifinal, which needed five sets to settle: 63 75 57 46 64.
All four men are to be congratulated for their enormous efforts today in Paris. Coming to the final and seeing such extraordinary tennis certainly brought fans to their feet. It was the first time since 1970 that both semifinals went five sets.
Robin Soderling remains the surprise of this Grand Slam. Seeded #23 and always known for his wins on indoor carpet, the Swede has stunned the world with his power, groundstrokes, and his win over Rafael Nadal.
Soderling did what no other top-five player had done in four years -- beat the four-time champion on what many considered Rafa's home court. Soderling's feat is one for the record books. It gave the Swede an infusion of confidence that has fueled his engines up through today. He had thought he could beat top ten players. However, thinking and doing aren't the same.
He was relentless today against the hard-hitting Fernando Gonzalez. Soderling served 66% on first serves. He hit winners from every square inch of Court Chatrier and off both wings: forehand and backhand. His return of serves reached perfection and, at times, could only be described as miraculous. Soderling hit winners off Gonzalez's serve, and the Chilean served massively with 22 aces.
"He served well," Soderling began. "He barely missed the first serve. It was really tough for me. I felt like I played well, but I couldn't put any returns back. It was tough to get a rhythm."
Gonzalez looked to be all but out of the match when the third set started, but managed to break and win it 7-5. At the beginning of the fifth, Soderling tired and Gonzalez went up 4-1.
"No, it didn't look good. I was tired. But, you know, I felt like, okay, this is not how it's going to end. I have to try everything I can," Soderling said. "I didn't want to go off this court and feel like I didn't do my best in the fifth set. So, I just tried hard, and all of a sudden it all worked again."
Soderling ran off the next five games to cap off the match, whacking winners as if he'd closed his eyes and went for broke.
"I remember it was 4-1, 15-30 on his serve," Fernando began. "I did a really good slice and he hits like a magic shot after that. Even if he had three good returns, I try to play with the first serve and win some free points."
That was Gonzalez's final error. The one he said cost him the match.
Juan Martin Del Potro has never beaten Federer in their five previous matches. But, Del Potro came as close as he ever has today. One reasonÉ his serve.
"It was a long match, very close," Del Potro said. "It was my first semis, and I had the chance. I think I'm playing better than Australia, and I serve very good every moment in the match. That was the reason about the five sets."
Federer knew Del Potro had the upper hand. He came out strong and took control of the match. Federer said that he wanted to stay as close to Del Potro as possible.
"It was quite a bit of pressure," Roger said. "Thank goodness my serve started to get better as the match went on. Once I got that second set, I knew I was always going to be in a shot. The longer the match went, I was always confident with my, you know, my physical abilities and my mental abilities that I was going to be able to turn it around in a tough situation."
These first six rounds have tested Roger Federer. He came close to losing to Jose Acasuso in the second round and Tommy Haas in the round of sixteen. His match today was no foregone conclusion until the last ball was struck. The final will be the biggest test of Roger's entire tennis career. If he passes, the world will celebrate. He could go down in history as the greatest of all time.
Federer is 9-0 against Robin Soderling. If the future could be cast from statistics, the trophy would be Federer's. His experiences in Grand Slam finals speak of a victory on Sunday, if it is only a projection. And there's nothing wrong with speculation except that it pulls attention away from the players and points to the speculator who watches from afar while the men on the terra battue fight for what they believe rightfully belongs to them.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 4, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming
June 3, 2009 French Open Coverage: As The Clay Settles
June 2, 2009 French Open Coverage: And The Hits Just Keep On Coming
June 1, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Vacuum Left by Nadal
May 31, 2009 French Open Coverage: Both Defending Champs Out At French Open
May 30, 2009 French Open Coverage: Draw Opens as Djokovic Falls In Three
May 29, 2009 French Open Coverage: What's Up With All That Noise!
May 28, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Shifting Clay of Roland Garros
May 27, 2009 French Open Coverage: The Heart of a Champion
May 26, 2009 French Open Coverage: American Women in Paris
May 25, 2009 French Open Coverage: Sharapova Fights On, Nadal and Federer Cruise
May 24, 2009 French Open Coverage: Bienvenue au Paris