RolandGarros, France May 24-June 7, 2009; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Clay
Roger Federer’ triumph was like a “traveling in time” experience through history of tennis. He tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles, having won at least once on clay – something Sampras wasn’t able to do in 13 Parisian trials. The 28-year-old Federer could already be considered at the time as a better player than the American. In achieving that feat helped him Robin Soderling, who made one of the biggest upsets of the XXI Century, stunning in the fourth round Rafael Nadal – unbeaten in Paris in years 2005-08 – the four-time tamer of Federer (they played against each other semifinal and three consecutive finals).
Rafael Nadal has preserved his French Open unbeaten record and progressed to the second round with a challenging victory over world No. 97 Marcos Daniel 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. Defeat here would have meant a second consecutive loss on clay for Nadal, a scarcely believable prospect given that the world No. 1 has won the last four French Opens, the past five Monte Carlo Masters titles and four out of the past five Rome Masters. Daniel’s most powerful weapon is his service and he used this to keep the match competitive but in the end Nadal’s experience and booming ground-strokes were enough to make the next round. Nadal and Daniel held service for the first eight games before the champion finally broke the Brazilian to go 5:4 up. Daniel broke straight back but then lost his own serve again and Nadal served out for the set. A determined Daniel then broke Nadal again in the 4th game of the 2nd set, and the Paris crowd responded to this unexpected turn of events. But just as in the first set, Nadal broke straight back to cancel Daniel’s advantage, and then held his own serve to make it 3:3 and broke again to take control of the set, which he duly won to four. Daniel’s frustration was obvious and his will seemed broken, Nadal pulling away comfortably to take a 5:2 lead in the final set. Daniel summoned up enough energy to break back and then raced to a 40/0 lead on his own service. Once again though Nadal simply upped the pressure, fought back to advantage and then broke to take the match. Roger Federer also advanced with the minimum of fuss against Alberto Martin. The world No. 2, who is once again bidding to complete his set of Grand Slams and equal Pete Sampras‘ record of 14, eased to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory in 1 hour and 43 minutes. Federer arrived at Roland Garros buoyed by his first title of the season in Madrid – and his first victory over great rival Nadal for almost two years. It was world No. 98 Martin who was quicker out of the blocks and he broke Federer’s serve in the first game as the three-time runner-up began in sloppy fashion. There will be no shutout for U.S. men at the French Open this year. Robert Kendrick made sure of it. Kendrick  beat qualifier  Daniel Brands of Germany 6-7(7), 7-5, 7-6(11), 4-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted more than 3 1/2 hours Sunday to reach the second round at Roland Garros for the first time. In his only previous appearance, Kendrick lost in the first round in 2007 – part of an 0-9 showing by American men in Paris that year. “That was pretty depressing,” Kendrick said. Asked what he thinks when he hears talk about U.S. problems on the French Open’s red clay, Kendrick said: “Kind of hate it.” Kendrick totaled 35 aces in his victory over Brands and attributed part of his success Sunday to hitting big serves and charging the net, where he won 27 of 41 points. Not exactly the traditional way to play on clay. “Still going to come in and not stay back there and hit a million balls,” Kendrick said. The other two U.S. men in action Sunday lost, with Wayne Odesnik beaten by No. 7 Gilles Simon of France 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, and Sam Querrey eliminated by Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 7-6(1), 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. Andy Murray provided further evidence of his improvement on clay by demolishing Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. Chela, a quarter-finalist at Roland Garros in 2004, is a supposed specialist on the surface but he could not live with the British No. 1, who claimed a convincing 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win. Given his increasing confidence on clay, the ease of this win and the benign draw he has received, Murray will be confident of making the second week here for the first time, which he has admitted is his first objective for the tournament. James Blake has lost in the first round of the French Open to a qualifier making his Grand Slam debut. The 15th-seeded Blake was upset 6-7(6), 5-7, 2-6 on Tuesday by 93rd-ranked Leonardo Mayer of Argentina. Blake has never been past the third round at Roland Garros. The American made more than twice as many unforced errors as Mayer. Fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic advanced to the second round when Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador retired while trailing 3-6, 1-3 after injuring his left ankle. “You can’t be playing if you can’t move,” said Djokovic, who himself retired in the quarterfinals of this year’s Australian Open. Fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina had little trouble in his opening match at Roland Garros, beating Michael Llodra of France 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. Del Potro won four straight ATP titles last year, the first two on clay. No. 27 Rainer Schuettler of Germany narrowly avoided a “triple bagel” after being shut out in the first two sets of a 6-0, 6-0, 6-4 loss to Marc Gicquel of France. On Friday, Schuettler lost to Robin Soderling 0-6, 0-6 at the ATP World Team Cup in Germany. “A double bagel is fine,” said Schuettler, who reached the semifinals at last year’s Wimbledon. “I had one last week. It’s nothing new.”Schuettler was also double bageled also in Tokyo 1998 by Jan-Michael Gambill.Fabrice Santoro, playing a record 67th Grand Slam and his 20th French Open, was on the verge of being beaten by Belgian Christophe Rochus when he was handed a last-gasp respite. His match was halted by dusk while he was trailing 3:5 in the 4th set. Dubbed the Magician for his habit of mystifying his opponents, the 36-year-old did not seem to have enough tricks up his sleeve to perform a great escape and prolong his Paris farewell tour. After the resumption Rochus lost the first game, but won the second and the match 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. That was until the sun setting over Roland Garros came to his rescue. The Parisian, who almost pulled out of the tournament because of a left knee problem, said he was not too troubled by the injury. “I got into the match easily, better than I thought,” he said. “At the very end, there was a warning sign, a little pain in the knee, but I think it’s due to the fact it was a bit warmer, than cooler.” Ivo Karlovic set a record for aces in a tour-level match Sunday, serving 55 in his 6-7(1), 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-3 loss to Lleyton Hewitt. The ATP began keeping records on aces in 1991. Karlovic shared the previous record of 51 aces with Joachim Johansson. The overall record belongs to American Ed Kauder, who fired 59 aces in a first-round loss (2-6, 6-3, 11-9, 8-10, 0-6 to Ham Richardson) at the U.S. Championships in Forest Hills in 1955.The old mark for aces in a French Open match was 37, set by Andy Roddick in 2001. Karlovic, the tallest man on the ATP tour at 6-foot-10, fell to 0-11 in five-set matches, which also is a record. “To play him on any surface, he’s so dangerous,” Hewitt said. “(He served) a lot of unreturnables.” Karlovic had 15 aces in the 1st set, 12 in the 2nd and 14 in the 3rd (41 aces – Mark Philippoussis once served 44 in three sets… 1995). All three of those sets went to tiebreakers, and Karlovic was broken only once in those three sets. In the final two sets, Karlovic had seven aces in each. “I didn’t feel I was 100% after the second set,” said Karlovic, who said he lacked energy under the Paris sun. Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam champion, finished with 19 aces. At Wimbledon in 2003, Hewitt lost to Karlovic to become the first man in the Open era to lose in the first round as defending champion at the All England Club. If Hewitt beats Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan in the second round, he could end up facing four-time defending champion Nadal in the third. “Today was a big enough hurdle,” said Hewitt, who had hip surgery last year.
Second round: Dave James
In a two-day match composed of 19 breaks of serve, Philipp Kolschreiber defeated former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3 in 3 hours 33 minutes (halted by darkness at two sets apiece). Ferrero, the 2003 champion who is now ranked 104th in the world, revealed afterwards that he is contemplating retirement at the end of the season, saying: “It will depend on my ranking, my physical condition and my motivation. From a tennis point of view everything is fine, but as far as motivation is concerned there are ups and downs. We will see if I am in the top 100 or outside. That will affect my decision.“The Spaniard called it career three years later… “So many breaks doesn’t mean that the game was bad. We are just both no serve-giants, rather good return players” said the German, who needed 40 minutes in the 5th set to set up his match with Novak Djokovic: “Djokovic is the big favourite, defeating him will be very, very difficult.” The Serb advanced to the third round of the French Open with a straight sets win over Ukranian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 in 2 hours and 4 minutes. Their second round match was also suspended on Thursday due to bad light after 89 minutes of play, Djokovic was leading by two sets. Novak clinched the opening game of the match with a great forehand winner. At 40/30 for Stakhovsky in the 3rd game Djokovic won three points in a row to get the first break of the match for 4:1 lead. Stakhovsky started the 2nd set in great style. He broke Djokovic’s service in the 2nd game and then held to increase his lead to 3:0. The Ukranian was leading 4:1* when Nole won five games in a row. Britain’s Andy Murray had to fight all the way to beat Potito Starace 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 and make the third round of the French Open in Paris. Murray’s booming serve had him in complete control but the ground-strokes and focus disappeared in the 2nd set and the Italian was sniffing an upset. The world number 104 grabbed a *5:1 lead in the 3rd but Murray roared back saving set point at 2:5 & 4:5. Murray said: “I was frustrated that I was playing well and let him back into the match. But I turned it around by playing more aggressive, playing the ball deep to his backhand and coming to the net a lot more.” Second seed Roger Federer claimed a 3-hour-25-minute 7-6(8), 5-7, 7-6(2), 6-2 win over Argentina’s Jose Acasuso, who wasted four set points in the 1st set and another one in the 3rd where he led 5:1*. Acasuso, who has only progressed beyond the second round of a Grand Slam once in 28 attempts, cut a weary figure by the end, worn down as much by his own physical shortcomings as Federer’s pinpoint hitting. “I’m not in that sort of situation very often, although the conditions were slow so that was in his favour,” Federer said. “He looked tired to me by the end so I just tightened the game and closed him out.” Federer, the runner-up to Nadal for the past three years and still missing a French Open from his 13-title Grand-Slam collection, now faces French 32nd seed Paul-Henri Mathieu for a place in the last 16. Mathieu joined Marc Gicquel and Jeremy Chardy in winning through, but it was ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, the 11th seed and a semi-finalist in 2008, who lifted home spirits with two dashing performances. Tsonga defeated Argentina’s Juan Monaco 7-5, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(8) before Monfils confidently beat Romanian Victor Crivoi 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 just minutes later. “That was a great win for me against a real claycourter – a serious competitor,” Tsonga said. “I played with my heart and with the public getting behind me like that it was so emotional.“ Tsonga saved two set points in the 4th set. The wins for Tsonga and Monfils sent French hopes soaring that a home player could finally once again lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires, 26 years after Yannick Noah. Meanwhile Marat Safin led 3:1* in the 5th set, but was bowed out of his last French Open with typical flashes of brilliance and petulance in a 7-6(2), 7-6(4), 4-6, 3-6, 10-8 defeat by ‘wildcard’ Josselin Ouanna that the former world No. 1 was keen to forget. The match lasted 4 hours 34 minutes. The hotheaded Russian, who will retire at the end of the year, clawed himself back from two sets down to force a decider where he saved two match points in two different games before bashing a wild forehand wide to send the 134th-ranked Frenchman into the third round. The 20th seed dug himself out of a hole with the type of exquisitely placed forehands that took him to two Grand Slam titles but then buried himself in deeper trouble with the sloppy shots that trigger displays of frustration. Not one to hold back, he found fault with all his shots. “[I had a] terrible first serve. And of course, backhand didn’t do anything,” he told a news conference. “I couldn’t find any angles to catch his backhand. Terrible approaches, and of course not covering the net the way I should,” Safin said. Launching into several monologues directed at his racket, he kicked a ball and punched his racket when he fluffed easy shots and cheered himself when he unleashed the occasional unstoppable shot. He was less emotional when asked about leaving Roland Garros for the last time. “Well, as you can see, I didn’t draw the heart, and I didn’t lay down and I didn’t cry and I didn’t all those things… it’s not me,” he said referring to Gustavo Kuerten tracing a huge heart in the clay and flopping down in the middle of it after winning his third French Open in 2001. “[It’s] a terrible way to finish with the French Open but anyway… it’s okay. It’s not so sad. [It] doesn’t get me emotional,” he summed up. Rafael Nadal won his 30th consecutive match at Roland Garros by trampling Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. Nadal’s compatriot – David Ferrer  had unexpectedly tough match against Nicolas Kiefer . The Spaniard won 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in 4 hours 5 minutes, improving his 5-set record to 11-2.
Third round: (BBC)
The world No. 1 Rafael Nadal manhandled the former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, on Friday, confounding the riddle everyone has been trying to solve: how do you beat Nadal at the French Open? Nadal rolled through the 1st set, hitting winners at will and easily countering every comeback attempt. At one point, John McEnroe said Hewitt had an additional concern to contend with (as if getting steamrolled by Nadal wasn’t enough): embarrassment. Hewitt briefly showed signs of life in the 2nd set, fighting back from an early break to get back on serve. But in the end he simply had no answers for Nadal’s mastery of clay. An evening that began with an alarming 1st-set deficit ended with a light-hearted game of football tennis for Andy Murray after he was ushered through to the last 16 of the French Open. Barely an hour after trailing 2:5 against Janko Tipsarevic, the British No. 1 was warming down on an outside court with his support team, the Serb having retired with a strained hamstring when losing 7-6(3), 6-3. Tipsarevic, whose comedy sunglasses and impish features make him look like a Wii character, packs a huge serve for a relatively small man, and when he drew ahead in the opener he looked sure to hold on for the set. Parity was restored with two breaks as Tipsarevic (led *5:4, 40/15) began to have errors forced out of him but then, without warning, Murray blew four game points to slip to 5:6. Again Murray broke (saved third set point), getting himself into a tie-break, territory in which he thrives. He played it masterfully to claim it 7/3, firing two aces from his first three serves. Tipsarevic demonstrably lost a yard from his stride as the 2nd set progressed and suspicions that this was a mere tactical summoning of the medics began to look ill-founded. Soon Murray was through but he will need to apply himself more consistently if he is to make a semi-final date with Nadal. Who could expect that Nadal would be eliminated by Robin Soderling in the next round? The Swede in his 22nd Grand Slam appearance, finally advanced to the fourth round overcoming David Ferrer 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-2, 7-6(5) in 3 hours 36 minutes trailing 2:4 in the 4th set tie-break.Novak Djokovic suffered a comprehensive defeat at the hands of 29th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round of the French Open. Serbia’s fourth seed, barely made an impression on the match and the German claimed a relatively straightforward victory, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 on Court One at Roland Garros. The result is all the more shocking given that Djokovic has made the semi-finals of the tournament in the previous two years. Kohlschreiber now goes on to face Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, after the Spanish 16th seed defeated Maximo Gonzalez of Argentina in four sets. “He played incredibly well today,” said Djokovic, who only recently lost his world No. 3 place to Murray. Having taken on a new fitness coach, it had appeared the 22-year-old Serb was regrouping, but this will be a considerable jolt to his confidence, which has ebbed and flowed over the past 16 months: “I haven’t played in the last three Slams the way I wanted. I will try to change some things for Wimbledon this year. I cannot allow myself to have such a bad performance as I had today. I cannot allow myself to be that defensive. This is not me. This is not my game. To be honest, I think it was just my head and me today. I don’t want to blame anything else.” Sixth seed Andy Roddick has broken new ground at Roland Garros with a comfortable third-round win over Frenchman Marc Gicquel. The American posted a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory on Suzanne Lenglen Court to clinch a spot in the last 16 of the French Open for the first time in his career. Roddick has gone out in the first round in his last two appearances in Paris, in 2006 and 2007, but this year he is disproving the theory he cannot play on clay – he has not dropped a set this week. Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina also reached the fourth round for the first time. The fifth seed beat world No. 25 Igor Andreev of Russia 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, making it to the round of 16 for the third Grand Slam tournament in a row. The 20-year-old Del Potro is the second-youngest man left in the tournament, and is one of only four players to beat Nadal in 2009. Elsewhere in the men’s draw, Germany’s Tommy Haas set up a fourth-round date with second seed Federer by beating Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 on Court One. Fernando Verdasco edged closer to another potentially epic Grand Slam showdown with Nadal on Friday after taking the hard road to see off another Spanish compatriot Nicolas Almagro. Eighth seed Verdasco needed nine match points to defeat the 31st Almagro 6-2, 7-6(4), 7-6(8) just under three hours in their third round clash and will next face Nikolay Davydenko, a two-time semi-finalist. Almagro had already saved seven set point when he squandered a set point on his own at 7:6 in the tie-break.Roger Federer faced a few nervous moments before he navigated past plucky Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the fourth round of the French Open on Saturday. After saving five break points during his opening service games, Mathieu pounced on his only opportunity to break for 4:3 and the local favorite protected his advantage to bag the 1st set with a scorching ace. Federer, chasing a record-equaling 14th major, did not allow his opponent to stay on cloud nine for long as within minutes he had sneaked into a 3:0 lead in the 2nd.
Fourth round: (BBC)
World number one Rafael Nadal suffered his first defeat at the French Open in a shock 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(2) loss in 3 hours 30 minutes to Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Nadal, chasing a fifth straight Roland Garros title, saw his 31-match unbeaten run in Paris come to an end in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Soderling’s win comes a month after he was beaten 1-6, 0-6 by Nadal in Rome! “I told myself this is just another match,” said the 24-year-old Swede, “All the time, I was trying to play as if it was a training session. When I was 4:1 up in the fourth set tie-break, I started to believe. I just couldn’t believe it when I won that last point. I’m so proud of myself. This is the best win of my career against a man who is the greatest clay-court player in history.” Nadal, who had won the Monte Carlo, Rome and Barcelona events in the run-up to Paris, admitted he had been below par. “He didn’t surprise me because I know how he plays and how dangerous he can be,” said the 22-year-old. “When I practiced this morning I felt good. I felt very good, but it wasn’t the case during the match. I didn’t play my best. I played very short and I couldn’t attack. I made it easy for him to play at his level. I was not calm enough to face the important points, so I had to fight. But sometimes fighting is not enough. You have to play a good level of tennis. People think I win because I’m physically fit, but, no. When I win, it’s because I play well.” Soderling had lost his previous three matches against Nadal but seemed a man transformed on Court Philippe Chatrier. He unleashed one formidable service game after the next and his deadly ground-strokes put Nadal under severe pressure throughout. The Spaniard struggled from the outset against a player with whom he was involved in an unsavoury spat at Wimbledon two years ago when Soderling mocked his pre-service routine. Nadal was broken in the 4th game as Soderling went 4:1 ahead and again in the crucial eighth as the free-flowing, uninhibited world number 25 continued to find the corners with devastating accuracy. When the 23rd seed took the opening set it was the first time Nadal had dropped a set at the French Open since the 2007 final against Federer. Despite missing his usual fluency, and visibly rattled by Soderling’s unrelenting assault, Nadal broke for the first time to lead 2:1 in the 2nd set, only to surrender his advantage in the 10th game. Nadal would then have been expected to storm past the 6’4 Swede, but Soderling executed a fine backhand volley to go to 5:5. The Spaniard did, however, run away with the tie-break to level the match when a Soderling forehand flew long. Soderling, coached by compatriot and 2000 finalist Magnus Norman, refused to yield, breaking to lead 4:3 in the 3rd set before backing it up for a 5:3 advantage. He took the set when Nadal netted another weary forehand off yet another deep Soderling drive. Nadal broke to lead 2:0 in the 4th set, but Soderling hit back immediately as another tie-break loomed (Nadal was two points away from the final set leading 6:5). And when it arrived Soderling clinched his famous win on a second match point when Nadal went wide with a pick-up. Nikolay Davydenko caused something of a surprise to overcome eighth seed Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. Sixth-seed Andy Roddick followed Nadal and Djokovic out of the French Open after losing in straight sets to home favourite Gael Monfils. Roddick walked away in disgust after having repeatedly complained of poor light to the umpire. Roddick playing in the fourth round of the claycourt Grand Slam for the first time, complained to the umpire late in the 2nd set that the light was too bad but his pleas to stop went unheeded. “I’m having trouble seeing the ball,” he told the umpire. “When we started what did the sky look like? Now look up to the sky and tell me what’s changed.” The American former world number one gifted Monfils the 1st set with a service return into the net and lost the second after squandering three break points in the 8th game. After querying the light situation again, Roddick slammed his racket down in anger during the changeover at 3:2 in the 3rd, drawing boos from the partisan crowd. He seemed resigned to his fate for the rest of the set and the Frenchman, sealed victory at 9.37 p.m. local time on his first match point when Roddick netted a forehand. “It is fantastic, it’s a great moment,” said Monfils. Andy Murray defeated Marin Cilic 7-5, 7-6(4), 6-1 and reach the French Open quarter-finals for the first time. The 1st set was a tale of two in-form players exchanging blows but Murray broke at 5:5 before serving out. Murray took the 2nd set on a tie-break after breaks were exchanged (Murray led 4:2*, then he was serving at 5:6 ‘deuce’) and stormed past a deflated Cilic in the 3rd to wrap up victory. Tennis fans at the Suzanne Lenglen stadium court this afternoon found themselves focused on a match 100 yards away, whereFederer had fallen behind Haas, two sets to none, at the Philippe Chatrier stadium court. In front of them, two sluggers, Tommy Robredo of Spain and Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, were fighting for the right to play in the 2009 French Open quarterfinals. Neither one was giving up. Robredo was bulling his way toward victory. He won the 1st set, then faltered. In the 9th game of the 2nd set, with a potential break point only one good shot away, he allowed Kohlschreiber to serve his way out of danger, from 15/30 down. At 30/30, the German hit an overhead smash in the sweet spot of his racquet for a winner. He shouted an abbreviated “C’mon!” and then served out the game to lead, 5:4. They saw Kohlschreiber, who had appeared irritated earlier in the set, begin to stir. He took the set and seemed poised for a comeback. But Robredo wasn’t having it. The 3rd set lasted 59 minutes and it was fierce tennis. Two players slugging it out. To return serve, both men stood only a few yards inside the court, at least five steps behind the baseline. So, who won? At the end of the match, the two men had hit a total of 75 winners. Perhaps the difference is that Robredo hit one more than Kohlschreiber (43-42). The Spaniard won, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-2 keeping a pattern of two-year intervals in Paris; he advanced to the quarterfinals there for the fourth time: 2003, 05, 07 & 09.Roger Federer knows full well, of course, that Nadal is no longer around this year to befuddle him, to beat him, to stand between him and a French Open title. Federer insists he is not thinking about that, not thinking ahead. Still, Federer sure did play as if preoccupied for the better part of two hours Monday, dropping the first two sets of his fourth-round match against 63rd-ranked Tommy Haas of Germany. One point from letting Haas serve for the victory, Federer conjured up one particularly spectacular forehand that managed to change the entire flow of things. That shot spurred a run of nine consecutive games for Federer, sending him to a 6-7(4), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 victory over Haas and a berth in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. “I knew I was going to look back on that shot. That saved me,” Federer said. “I was in quite some danger.” “It kicks the door open for Roger, but suddenly: ‘Yeah, step up.’ Now the pressure’s really on,” three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander said. “The pressure before was to just give Nadal a good match. Now, it’s like, ‘Hey, listen, if you can’t win it now, then you’re definitely not considered the greatest player of all-time – until you do.'” Asked about Nadal, Federer joked: “Um, he didn’t retire, right?” “My dream scenario is to beat Rafa here in the finals,” he continued, “but I’ve got to concentrate on my part of the draw and make sure I come through like today.” Good as he was at the start against Haas – Federer won the first 24 points on his serve (it means he won all his service games before the tie-break at ‘love’!) – there were moments when his signature forehand let him down. Federer missed two in a row to fall behind in the opening tie-break. When Haas took the 2nd set (Federer led 4:2*), the prospect of the No. 2-seeded Federer following No. 1 Nadal on the way out was a distinct possibility. Then came the 3rd-set point both Federer and Haas considered pivotal: with Federer serving at 3:4, 30/40 (a mini-match point) – five points from losing – he ran around his backhand side for an inside-out forehand winner that landed right near a line. “We both knew there was a chance for me to finish him off,” Haas said. “Just got to tip your hat and say, ‘That’s why he’s Roger Federer.'”
Robin Soderling, the hard-hitting Swede who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tennis history when he eliminated four-time defending champion Nadal on Sunday, dominated Nikolay Davydenko 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 to move into the semifinals. “I was a little bit lucky in the beginning,” said Soderling, who saved the only two break points he faced in the opening game of the match. “Instead of maybe being down 2:0, I was up 2:0.” Soderling will play in his first major semifinal against 12th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez. The Chilean advanced by beating No. 3 Andy Murray of Britain 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4. Two days ago, Soderling ended Nadal’s perfect record at Roland Garros, beating the top-ranked Spaniard in four sets and handing him his first loss in 32 matches. He also kept the Spaniard from bettering Bjorn Borg‘s streak of four straight French Open titles. In recognition of that, Soderling got a text message from the Swedish great. “He said, ‘Congratulations, and thank you for not letting Nadal break my record,'” Soderling said. “It was very big for me. He’s maybe the best player of all-time.” At the start of Tuesday’s match, it looked as if Soderling’s huge win could have taken too much out of him. Serving to open the match, he gave the 10th-seeded Davydenko two chances to go up an early break. But after saving them and holding serve, the 24-year-old Swede then won the next four games, including taking 11 straight points. “If I try to play well, he play much better,” said Davydenko, a two-time French Open semifinalist who turned 28 on Tuesday. “I didn’t play good.” Soderling also had a break point in the 1st game of the 2nd set and three in the 5th, but Davydenko saved them all. At 3:3, however, the Russian committed four unforced errors to give Soderling the decisive break. “It was a little bit tougher than the score was,” said Soderling, who finished with 19 forehand winners. “I knew that he was going to start playing better, and straight from the first point in the second set he actually started to play much better. So I always needed to tell myself to not lose concentration.” After breaking Davydenko twice more in the 3rd set, Soderling served for the match and used two more big forehands to give him three match points. The Swede wasted the first with a forehand that went long, but then he hit his fourth ace of the match to end it. If Soderling wins the title Sunday, he would be the sixth man in the Open era to win his first clay-court tournament at the French Open. “I don’t want to be too happy, because I have another match coming up,” Soderling said. And that match will be against another player with a big forehand – Gonzalez. “Some guys can hit huge forehands when they’re in the middle the court. Some guys hit huge forehand returns,” said Murray, who was playing in the quarterfinals of a clay-court tournament for only the second time. “He can hit his forehand from anywhere on the court.” Gonzalez broke to take a 5:3 lead in the 1st set by sending a couple forehand winners past Murray. The 2007 Australian Open finalist then used a couple more late in the next game to hold. “I tried to dominate with my forehand, because I know that Andy [is] bothered a lot when the balls bounce high. He doesn’t play on clay much,” Gonzalez said. In the 2nd set, Murray broke to take a 4:2 lead and held to even the score at one set apiece, but he did little against Gonzalez in the 3rd. “He played a perfect third set,” Murray said. Gonzalez again broke to take a 5:3 lead in the final set and then served for the match. Murray, however, broke Gonzalez at love, but his stellar play didn’t last long. In the 10th game Murray played one of the worst service games I’ve ever seen and was broken at love as well. “At the end of the match I played a poor, poor game… which is not like me,” Murray said. “I got myself back into the match there and played four bad points.” But whichever of the two advanced, the real surprise is the absence of Nadal. “When you get to French Open, when you say ‘French Open,’ you think ‘Nadal’ immediately,” Gonzalez said. “But Robin is a great player. If he’s [having] a good day he won’t let you play, so it’s going to be a really tough match for me.” With just two victories separating Roger Federer from that trophy and with no Nadal, Djokovic or Murray in sight, Federer was ready to accept the obvious on Wednesday at the French Open. “It’s true that I’m the big favorite now,” Federer said, his ball cap perched on his left knee and a smile coming easily to his familiar face. “But I was really nervous yesterday and today, because I knew this match against Monfils would be tricky.” With his elastic power, sprinter’s speed and ability to feed off a home crowd, Gael Monfils was clearly one of the young men to be avoided at this French Open. But Federer coolly worked and served his way past the 11th-seeded Monfils in their quarterfinal, 7-6(6), 6-2, 6-4, showing little of the edginess that had riddled some of his early-round matches with mis-hits and doubt. The key was the 1st set, in which Federer fought off three break points and a set point in the tie breaker. Monfils, an emotive sort, then drooped noticeably for a few games and the lull gave Federer all the momentum he required to roll to victory without once losing his serve. “My problem in this tournament is I’ve had lots of problems at the start of my matches,” said Federer who had to rally from a two-set deficit in the fourth round to beat Haas. “I just couldn’t really shake free. Today for the first time I felt I could play a bit more comfortably, and you could see it in my style of play. I hope you’ll see it in my next match. My next two matches.” The second-seeded Federer also beat Monfils in last year’s semifinals. This year, his opponent Friday will be No. 5 seed Juan Martín del Potro, the tall, powerful and deceptively mobile 20-year-old Argentine who advanced by defeating Tommy Robredo of Spain. Though Robredo, a four-time French Open quarter-finalist, had much more experience, Del Potro was the more poised and powerful force, winning, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 on Suzanne Lenglen court. The Argentine fired 14 aces and saved all seven break points.
Semifinals: (USA today)
Sentimental favorite Roger Federer twice came from behind in the French Open semifinals Friday to beat big-serving Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina 3-6, 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Playing in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final, Federer will try for his 14th major title to match Pete Sampras’ record. He will also be trying to complete a career Grand Slam. “It feels great coming through tough matches like this,” Federer said. “It’s more emotional. It’s more satisfaction.” Federer’s opponent Sunday will be No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden, who extended his improbable Roland Garros run by beating No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez in another seesaw semifinal, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 in 3 hours 28 minutes. “There’s still one more step,” Federer said. With nemesis Rafael Nadal eliminated in the fourth round, Federer faces a less daunting path to that elusive Roland Garros championship. He’s 9-0 against Soderling. But then Federer had swept his previous five matches and 12 sets against Del Potro. The tall Argentine rose to the occasion in his first major semifinal and kept on the offensive for much of the match, but began to tire in the fourth set. Federer hung in there through first three sets, he was serving at 4:5 (0/30) in the 2nd set… “The longer the match went, I was always confident with my physical abilities and my mental abilities that I was going to be able to turn it around in a tough situation,” Federer said. He broke for the first time 2 ½ hours into the match to lead 3:1 in the 4th set. Del Potro lost his next two service games as well, allowing Federer to sweep seven games in a row and finally take the lead (2:0 in the decider). By then, Federer was in top form, gliding across the clay that has vexed him in the past. He won a frantic rally and a standing ovation by lunging to slice a forehand into the open court for a 3:1 lead in the 5th set. There were more highlight-reel shots down the stretch, and he closed the victory with forehand winners on back-to-back points. Del Porto greeted him at the net with a handshake and a smile. “I just congratulated him and wished him good luck,” ‘DelPo’ said. “I said everybody wants him to lift the trophy at the end.” Federer trailed for much of the match, struggling to hold serve and unable to break. Sensing his once-a-year opportunity again slipping away, he slapped himself in the face after losing one frantic rally. Maybe that helped. And maybe he was buoyed by a crowd that kept chanting “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” Del Potro made one last charge in the final set, hitting several ferocious shots to break for 3-all. But he missed all eight first serves in the next game and finally dumped a weary second serve into the net on break point. “I feel so sad,” Del Potro said. “I really wanted to be in that final, and now I’m going to have to watch it on TV.” On a cool, cloudy, evening, Federer looked out of sorts early, failing to convert two early break points and losing serve at 2-all. He twice fell behind love/40 while serving and shanked an easy overhead, perhaps a sign of nerves. Federer served better in the 2nd set but was broken when he played a sloppy game to start the 3rd set and again found himself trailing a bigger, younger, more powerful opponent. One point-blank exchange forced Federer to retrieve three Del Potro’s volleys, and he failed to reach a fourth. Federer hung his head, and as he walked back to the baseline he slapped himself. A game later, the Argentine closed the third set, before Federer mounted his latest comeback. He overcame a two-set deficit to beat Tommy Haas in the fourth round. “It’s nice, because I practice for hours and hours and hours, and I don’t get tired,” Federer said. “To be able to show it also on a match court in a big opportunity like this, it’s fantastic.” Next up: Soderling. He scrambled the draw with his win Sunday over the four-time defending champion. Federer has been beaten at the French Open each of the past four years by Nadal, the past three times in the final. The Swede is beyond the third round for the first time in 22 career major tournaments, and he’ll play in his first clay-court tournament final. “He deserves it,” Federer said. “He’s still the one who beat Rafa, who was the man to beat in this tournament. Obviously it’s nice to see someone else for a change in the French Open final.” Against Gonzalez, Soderling let a big lead slip away when he lost his serve in the final game of the 3rd and 4th sets (in the 2nd set the Swede saved a set point trailing 4:5 on serve). He fell behind *1:4 (15/30) in the final set, but down the stretch came up with the kind of shot-making that has carried him through the tournament, and he swept the last five games. “I had maybe the biggest challenge in tennis right now to beat Nadal here on clay in Paris,” he said. “I was still in the tournament, so even though I played a great match, I wanted more. I still feel that way.” The victory over Gonzalez was only his fourth in a five-set match. “I did a good job of coming back,” Gonzalez said. “But Soderling is playing at a really high level. He gets to every ball. I couldn’t take him out of position.” The first semifinal had lots of drama, and a little controversy. Gonzalez challenged a call late in the fourth set, contending a shot by Soderling had landed wide, and when the umpire denied his appeal, Gonzalez sat on the disputed mark in the clay to smooth it out. “I did something for fun,” Gonzalez said. “One point doesn’t affect a five-set match.” Gonzalez won the game anyway, but played the rest of the match with dirt caked on his shorts. The quality of play was high throughout. Soderling had 74 winners, including 16 aces, and Gonzalez totaled 59 winners, including 22 aces.
Final: Howard Fendrich
Oh, how Roger Federer savored every moment with his first French Open trophy. He raised it overhead. He cradled it in the crook of his elbow. He closed his eyes and kissed it. He examined the names of other champions etched on its base. Even in a downpour on Court Philippe Chatrier, as heavy, gray clouds blocked any shred of sunlight Sunday, that silver trophy sure seemed to glisten. Finally, the lone major championship that had eluded Federer was his. With his latest masterful performance, Federer tied Pete Sampras‘ record of 14 major singles titles and became the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam. History was at stake, and Federer was at his best, completely outplaying No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden en route to a 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 victory in a French Open final that lacked suspense but not significance. “Maybe my greatest victory or certainly the one that takes the most pressure off my shoulders,” Federer said in French, moments after dropping to his knees, caking them with clay, as his 127 mph service winner ended the match. “I think that now, and until the end of my career, I can really play with my mind at peace and no longer hear that I’ve never won at Roland Garros.” Federer came heartbreakingly close in the past, losing the previous three French Open finals, so there certainly was something poetic about his tying Sampras’ Grand Slam mark at this particular tournament, on this particular court. “Now that he’s won in Paris, I think it just more solidifies his place in history as the greatest player that played the game,” Sampras told The Associated Press, “If there’s anyone that deserves it, it’s Roger. He’s come so close lost to one guy who’s going to go down as probably the greatest clay-courter of all time.” That would be Rafael Nadal, the man who beat Federer at Roland Garros in the 2006-08 finals and the 2005 semifinals, too. But Nadal’s 31-match French Open winning streak ended this year with a fourth-round loss to the hard-hitting Soderling. “I knew the day Rafa won’t be in the finals, I will be there, and I will win. I always knew that, and I believed in it. That’s exactly what happened,” the second-seeded Federer said. “It’s funny. I didn’t hope for it. But I believed in it.” Only 7-13 against Nadal, Federer entered Sunday 9-0 against Soderling and, other than the threat of postponement because of rain, there was never any doubt that would become 10-0 by day’s end. That’s because Federer showed off the athleticism and artistry that carried him to five championships at Wimbledon, the last five at the U.S. Open and three at the Australian Open. Federer hit more aces than Soderling, 16-2. He broke Soderling four times. He won 40 of the first 47 points on his serve. He won five points with delicate drop shots. Federer was outstanding at the start, taking a 4:0 lead, and close to perfect in the tiebreaker. That was Soderling’s chance to get into the match, but Federer wouldn’t allow it: the Swiss star served four points – and all four were aces, ranging from 118 mph to 132 mph. Federer called it “one of the greatest tiebreakers in my career.” Soderling never really stood a chance, not against Federer, not on this day, not on this stage. “You really gave me a lesson in how to play tennis,” Soderling told Federer. This was Federer’s 19th Grand Slam final, equaling Ivan Lendl‘s record, and Soderling’s first. Soderling not only shocked Nadal – and the entire tennis world but also beat No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez and No. 14 David Ferrer. “Every time I played Roger, after the match, I always said, ‘I played so bad today.’ Now I learned that it’s not that I played bad,” Soderling said. “He makes me play bad.” For only two moments was Federer the least bit shaken: as the last few points were played victory tantalizingly close and during a bizarre and worrisome episode when a man jumped over the photographer’s pit and ran on the court. It happened after the first point at 2:1* in the 2nd set, and the intruder went right up to Federer and tried to put a red hat on him. Federer brushed the man aside before security guards even got close enough to intervene. After hopping the net, the man was tackled and jailed for questioning. “A touch scary,” Federer said, lamenting he didn’t ask for a chance to gather himself. “It definitely felt uncomfortable once he came close to me. Looking back, it definitely threw me out of my rhythm a little bit.” Federer looked up at his pregnant wife, Mirka, and adjusted his headband, but soon was playing again. He lost that game at love, then quickly settled back into a groove. Until, that is, the countdown to a championship had gone from matches to sets to games to points. Waiting in his changeover chair at *5:4 in the 3rd set, Federer shook his legs to stay loose and took a few sips of water, then wiped his face with a towel. Stepping back on court to try to serve out the match, he was churning inside. “You can imagine how difficult that game was,” Federer said. “It was almost unplayable for me.” He put a forehand into the net. He sailed a backhand long. He shanked a swinging forehand volley 3 feet beyond the baseline to give Soderling a break point. “My mind was always wondering, ‘What if? What if I win this tournament?'” Federer said. He gathered himself, of course, and won the next three points the last three points of a tournament that meant so much to Federer. For the next 40 minutes, he stayed on that court, relishing it instead of dreading it. Federer accepted the trophy from Andre Agassi, whose 1999 French Open title made him the last man with a full set of Grand Slam trophies. “I’m so happy for you, man,” Agassi told Federer. Later, Agassi said: “Roger has earned his place, his rightful place, in the game, and winning here was just something that would have been a bit of a crime if he never did.” Federer won three major titles each in 2004, 2006 and 2007, but 2008 was a struggle by his and only his lofty standards. Slowed by mononucleosis, he lost in last year’s Australian Open semifinals the only one of the past 16 Grand Slam tournaments at which Federer didn’t reach the final. He absorbed the most lopsided Grand Slam loss of his career in the 2008 French Open final against Nadal, then lost to Nadal again in the Wimbledon final, 9-7 in the fifth set. He also lost the No. 1 ranking to Nadal, before winning the U.S. Open in September. Then came another five-set setback against Nadal in this year’s Australian Open final, and Federer’s anguish was there for the world to see when he wept during the post-match ceremony. Four months later, on Sunday, Federer cried on court again. When the Swiss national anthem played for the first time after a French Open men’s final, tears rolled down Federer’s cheeks, that silver trophy nestled in his arms. Federer’s 59th title (9th on clay). Stats of the final