Sunday, June 7, 2009

Federer frightened by intruder

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

Roger Federer admitted feeling frightened when confronted by an intruder midway through his French Open final victory.

Federer was preparing to receive a serve when 15-0 down in the fourth game of the second set when a spectator, wearing a top bearing the word 'Switzerland' on its front, entered the court having clambered down from high up in the stand opposite the umpire's chair.

He ran up to Federer and brandished in front of the player's face what appeared to be a flag of Spanish football team Barcelona.

He then attempted to place his cap on the head of Federer, who retreated way behind the service line.

Security were embarrassingly slow to react as the man danced in front of Federer for a few seconds before running around behind the chair of a line judge, charging across the court and vaulting the net.

He was then halted in his tracks as he was tackled to the ground by a security guard.

That was the only thing that threatened to derail Federer's charge to glory but he admitted it was a "touch scary".

"I don't know what happened but all of a sudden I heard the crowd, I looked over and he jumped over the fence. That gave me a fright seeing him so close right away," recalled Federer, who has also been confronted by intruding fans at Wimbledon and in a tournament in Montreal.

"It's a good thing it's happened to me before. But it definitely felt uncomfortable once he came close to me."

Federer, who won in straight sets today, was able thankfully to laugh it off.

"Normally they always look at me and go, 'I'm so sorry I have to do this', because they always have some sort of reason for it!" he added.

"I remember the English guy (at Wimbledon) was actually quite funny.

"This guy here looked at me and I was not sure what he wanted. It seemed like he wanted to give me something. So I was okay, because I saw he wasn't pulling for anything stupid."

Soderling added: "It wasn't great to see. I think the security were as surprised as we were.

"It's very bad that these things can happen. It's a shame."

Neither the International Tennis Federation (ITF) nor the French Tennis Federation (FFT) have made an official comment regarding the incident but an investigation seems sure to be launched.

The incident instantly brought back memories of the on-court attack on Monica Seles by a German spectator at a tournament in Hamburg in 1993.

The American, at that time 19 and the world number one, was stabbed in the back by a deranged Steffi Graf fan while she was sitting at a changeover during a quarter-final match against Magdalena Maleeva.

When contacted by PA Sport, a spokesman at the police headquarters of the 16th arrondissement in Paris refused to reveal the name of the intruder.

According to the website of Swiss newspaper Le Matin, he has been arrested for 'entering the grounds of a sports event'.

The same source said he was a Spaniard who was born in 1975 and hailed from Barcelona.

Federer claims French Open title

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

Roger Federer completed the career Grand Slam with victory over Robin Soderling at the French Open.

Federer won 6-1 7-6 (7/1) 6-4 to become only the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam tournaments.

He also equals Pete Sampras' all-time record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles and will now be regarded by many as the greatest player of all time.

French Open Men's Final in pictures

Victory over Soderling was rarely in doubt, the Swiss great racing through the first set and then fending off Soderling's attempts at a comeback in competitive second and third sets.

It was a fitting way for Federer achieve the feat - the 27-year-old producing a superb display to which we have become accustomed.

His serve was outstanding - he faced just two break points in the entire match and was never broken - the famous forehand rock solid, while his use of the drop shot - so often the one weakness in his game - baffled his Swedish opponent.

Federer got off to the best possible start, breaking serve in the very first game as he found top gear immediately.

Soderling looked a little nervous but Federer's level was so good he stood little chance in the early stages. He never allowed Soderling to dictate, as he had done so often during his dream run at Roland Garros, one which had seen him beat Federer's nemesis Rafael Nadal, the four-time defending champion.

The opening set was over in just 23 minutes, Soderling losing his serve three times.

The second set was much closer - a rare moment of concern coming when a spectator invaded the court and bizarrely dangled a flag over Federer - and no breaks of serve meant a tie-break was required to separate the players.

Had Soderling taken it, perhaps Federer would have stumbled. As it was, he was never given a hope.

Federer played a near-perfect tie-break, winning it 7-1, serving four aces from his four service points.

When Soderling dropped serve at the start of the third set the game looked up for the 23rd seed and although he forced break points in games four and 10 - as Federer served for the match - the Swiss stood firm.

Upon clinching victory when Soderling found the net, Federer sank to his knees in sheer delight and was soon overcome with emotion.

He got up to receive the trophy from Andre Agassi, the last man to win all four majors, his place in history assured.

Roger Federer Factfile

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

A look back at newly crowned French Open winner, Roger Federer's career.

1981: Born August 8 in Basle, Switzerland.

1998: Wins junior singles and doubles title at Wimbledon in the year he turns professional.

1999: Wins first ATP Challenger title with victory over Max Mirnyi in Brest.

Youngest player, at 18 years and 14 months, to finish season in top 100.

2000: Loses in last 16 of French Open to Alex Corretja. Loses in first round of Wimbledon to Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

2001: Loses to Corretja again in quarter-final of the French Open at Roland Garros.

Ends champion Pete Sampras' 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon with five-set victory on Centre Court before losing to Britain's Tim Henman in the quarter-finals.

2002: Wins ATP Masters Series title in Hamburg, but loses to Hicham Arazi in the first round at Roland Garros.

June - Seeded number seven at Wimbledon, but beaten by qualifier Mario Ancic in the first round.

2003: Loses in last 16 of the Australian Open to David Nalbandian.

June - Loses in first round of French Open to Luis Horna of Peru.

Wins grasscourt ATP International Series event in Halle, Germany.

Wins Wimbledon singles title, beating Mark Philippoussis in straight sets in the final.

Beaten in fourth round at US Open by David Nalbandian.

Ends season by winning Tennis Masters Cup and is ranked number two in the world.

2004: January - Defeats Marat Safin in the Australian Open final to win his second grand slam.

Takes over as world number one.

June - Beaten by Gustavo Kuerten in the third round of the French Open.

July - Beats Andy Roddick in four sets to retain Wimbledon title.

September - Thrashes Leyton Hewitt 6-0 7-6 (7/3) 6-0 to win first US Open.

2005: January - Loses Australian Open semi-final to Safin after five-set epic.

June - French Open semi-final exit to Rafael Nadal.

July - Beats Roddick in straight sets to retain Wimbledon title.

September - Beats Andre Agassi in four sets to retain US Open crown.

2006: January - Wins second Australian Open title.

June - Loses in French Open final to Nadal.

July - Wins fourth consecutive Wimbledon title with four-set defeat of Nadal.

Extends unbeaten run on grass to a record 49 matches.

September - Wins third straight US Open title with four-set defeat of Roddick.

2007: January 28 - Does not drop a set on the way to winning third Australian Open and 10th grand slam title. Bjorn Borg was the last man to complete such a feat in 1980.

February 26 - Sets new record of 161 consecutive weeks as world number one, beating the 30-year-old mark of Jimmy Connors.

March 12 - Bid to break Guillermo Vilas' ATP Tour record 46 straight victories ends with an injury-hit defeat to Guillermo Canas at the Masters Series event in Indian Wells. Federer had won 41 straight matches to that point.

May 12 - Parts company with coach Tony Roache after his longest tournament drought since becoming world number one.

May 20 - Finally beats Nadal on clay at the sixth attempt to win the Hamburg Masters, ending the Spaniard's record 81-match winning streak on the surface.

June 8 - Reaches French Open final, beating Jack Crawford's 73-year-old record of seven consecutive grand slam finals. He also breaks McEnroe's record of 35 consecutive sets won in grand slam events by winning 36.

June 10 - Loses French Open final to Nadal for second straight year.

July 8 - Beats Nadal in five-set epic to win fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, equalling the record of Borg.

September 10 - Beats Novak Djokovic in straight sets to win fourth successive US Open crown.

2008: January 25 - Loses in straight sets to Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals ending his record streak of grand slam final appearances at 10.

June 8: Thrashed 6-1 6-3 6-0 by Nadal in the French Open final, Federer's heaviest grand slam defeat and the first time he had lost a set 6-0 since 1999.

July 6: Denied a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title by Nadal, who beats him 6-4 6-4 6-7 (5/7) 6-7 (8/10) 9-7 in a Centre Court classic.

August 18 - Knocked off world number one spot by Nadal, ending his 237-week reign at the top.

September 8 - Beats Andy Murray 6-2 7-5 6-2 in the US Open final to claim his 13th grand slam title.

2009: February 1 - Nadal beats Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6 (7/3) 3-6 6-2 in Australian Open final.

February 17 - Pulls out of ATP event in Dubai and Switzerland's upcoming Davis Cup tie against USA with back injury.

April 16 - Suffers first career defeat to countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in third round of Monte Carlo Masters - an event in which he has lost in final to Nadal in each of last three years.

June 7 - Moves level with Sampras' record of 14 majors and becomes only sixth man to complete career Grand Slam by beating Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 (7/1) 6-4 in French Open final.

Comment: You deserve it Roger!

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

Roger Federer becoems only the sixth man in history to achieve the career Grand Slam. A true champion?

Roger Federer was a broken man four months ago after losing an epic Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal, but any tears today would have been of unconfined joy after he cemented his place in tennis history.

The 27-year-old beat Swedish surprise package Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 6-4 in the French Open final to move level on 14 major victories with Pete Sampras and become only the sixth man to achieve the career Grand Slam.

"It's up to the fans to judge whether it was the best ever," says the modest and unassuming Federer, who married childhood sweetheart Mirka in April and will become a father for the first time later this year.

He was hailed by Andre Agassi as "the best I've ever played against" after he beat the American in his last professional match in the 2005 US Open final.

He today joined the elite group of Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Agassi as the only men to clinch all four major titles.

Agassi, the only other man to achieve the feat in the Open era, believes today's triumph confirms Federer's status.

"It ends the discussion of where he fits in the history of the game," said the 1999 Roland Garros champion.

"It's not so much a question of Pete. If it wasn't for Nadal, he probably would have won a handful of these things, so nobody would underestimate where he deserves to fit in this game.

"This is going to mean so much to him, to have that hole filled. I think it will change his life."

Having lost the three previous finals at Roland Garros to Nadal, Federer must have wondered whether his time would ever come on the Paris clay.

But he has time and again proved himself to be a formidable figure in the face of adversity.

Federer in 2007 equalled Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon singles titles, defeating Nadal in five sets to also draw level with Borg and Laver on 11 grand slams.

His run of five successive Wimbledon titles came was ended last July by Nadal, who compounded the Swiss' misery by relieving him of the world number one spot the following month.

"It was a fair battle, which was tough with the rain delays," the Basle-born player said after Nadal's 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7 victory at SW19.

"There were some great points and I think we both stayed tough until the very end.

"In tennis unfortunately there have to be winners and losers, there are no draws. But it was probably my hardest loss by far. It doesn't get much harder than this."

Demoted to second in the ATP rankings after an amazing 237 weeks at the top, Federer responded to his summer disappointments by beating Great Britain's Andy Murray in September's US Open final to move within one grand slam triumph of equalling Sampras' mark.

That quest was cruelly thwarted by Nadal on February 1, however, as the powerful Mallorcan battled out a thrilling 7-5 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-2 win to become Australian Open champion.

Federer was reduced to tears by his Melbourne Park heartache, saying during an emotional post-match speech: "God, this is killing me."

He went on to pay tribute to his rival, who stepped up to the podium to console the beaten finalist in a show of great sportsmanship between the two best players on the planet.

Federer got through the presentation ceremony, but must have been left to ponder whether he had witnessed the changing of the guard with Nadal - five years his junior - now holding three of the four slams.

But he added a steely determination to his grace and elegance on the court to counter that fear and get himself back on the grand-slam trail.

Without an obvious flaw to his game, Federer's greatest strength is perhaps his composure in the face of immense pressure.

It is difficult to imagine a more complete player - or a more worthy addition to the esteemed group of career grand-slammers.

Federer's major titles

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

Roger Federer joined Pete Sampras on a record 14 grand-slam titles with his French Open victory.

Here, PA Sport looks at the Swiss star's journey to greatness, from winning his first Wimbledon crown to securing that elusive Roland Garros title:

1. Wimbledon 2003 - Federer, 21, produces a near-faultless display to beat Mark Philippoussis 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 7-6 (7/3) and claim his first grand-slam title. He had previously failed to get past the quarter-finals at a major.

2. Australian Open 2004 - Federer celebrates becoming world number one by outclassing Marat Safin 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 6-2 in what proves to be a one-sided final.

3. Wimbledon 2004 - For the second year in succession, Federer is brought to tears after winning Wimbledon, digging deep to come from behind and beat Andy Roddick 4-6 7-5 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 in a stuttering display.

4. US Open 2004 - Federer becomes the first man in history to win his first four grand-slam finals - and the first man in 16 years to claim three Majors in one year - with a 6-0 7-6 (7/3) 6-0 rout of Lleyton Hewitt, his first victory in New York.

5. Wimbledon 2005 - Federer completes a hat-trick of titles at SW19 with a devastating display to defeat Andy Roddick 6-2 7-6 (7/2) 6-4, labelling his performance "flawless" and the best in his life.

6. US Open 2005 - Federer dashes 35-year-old Andre Agassi's hopes of a fairytale victory in New York, defending his title with a 6-3 2-6 7-6 (7/1) 6-1 win.

7. Australian Open 2006 - Federer recovers from a poor start to sink unfancied Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 5-7 7-5 6-0 6-2 for his second title in Melbourne.

8. Wimbledon 2006 - Federer takes his winning streak on grass to 48 matches by beating arch rival Rafael Nadal 6-0 7-6 (7/5) 6-7 (2/7) 6-3 for a fourth Wimbledon crown.

9. US Open 2006 - Federer become the first man in the Open era to win three successive titles Wimbledon and New York in the same years by downing Andy Roddick 6-2 4-6 7-5 6-1, moving past Agassi and Fred Perry in the list of grand-slam winners.

10. Australian Open 2007 - Federer becomes the first man since 1980 to win a grand slam without dropping a set as he sees off Fernando Gonzalez 7-6 (7/2) 6-4 6-4 for a third title in Melbourne.

11. Wimbledon 2007 - Federer emulates Bjorn Borg by winning a fifth straight title here, beating Nadal for the second year in succession in an epic five-setter - 7-6 (9/7) 4-6 7-6 (7/3) 2-6 6-2 - that lasted close to four hours.

12. US Open 2007 - Federer was given a tough test by Novak Djokovic but won 7-6 (7/4) 7-6 (7/2) 6-4, despite trailing by a break in each set. It was his fourth consecutive title in New York.

13. US Open 2008 - Federer recovers from his Roland Garros and Wimbledon heartbreak months earlier to win a fifth straight title at Flushing Meadows, beating Britain's Andy Murray 6-2 7-5 6-2 in the final as a second seed.

14. French Open 2009 - Federer grabs the elusive title at Roland Garros by beating surprise finalist Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 (7/1) 6-4. The Swiss had lost the three previous finals to Nadal.

Soderling: Roger was too good

2009 French Open - Day Fifteen

Robin Soderling hailed Roger Federer as the greatest player of all time after losing to him at Roland Garros.

Federer romped to a 6-1 7-6 (7/1) 6-4 triumph over Soderling to clinch the only major which had eluded him in a glittering career.

The Swede, who beat Rafael Nadal and Nikolay Davydenko en route to the final, said: "I had the two best weeks of my career. Roger is a really worthy winner. To me he is the best player in history so he really deserves to win here at the French as well."

When asked whether the second-set tie-break had been the turning point, he replied: "It's tough to say but he played better than me today.

"I had a few chances but he came up with some extremely good shots at important moments.

"I'm still happy. I had a great tournament. Roger was too good for me today."

Addressing Federer at the presentation ceremony, Soderling added: "You really gave me a lesson on how to play tennis today.

"For me you're the greatest player in history so you really deserved to win this title."

Federer said on BBC1 moments after his win: "The victory was a huge pressure for me today.

"It's one of the best days of my life. Tennis is just my life."

Marat key to Safina downfall

Australian Open 2009 - Previews

Dinara Safina must be ruing the day her brother talked fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova out of quitting tennis.

Kuznetsova was at such a low ebb during the spring of last year that she contemplated retirement, at the age of 22.

Marat Safin, a leading player on the men's circuit, talked her around and just over a year on, she is the new French Open champion having beaten Safina - Marat's younger sister - with surprising ease yesterday in straight sets.

Kuznetsova is rejuvenated and ready to launch a new bid to become world number one for the first time. But it could all have been so different had she not decided to move training bases from Barcelona to Moscow.

"It's been a tough time for me," she said.

"I lost in Rome (in May last year) and I left for Moscow. I was saying I don't want to train, I don't want to think about it (tennis), I don't want to go back to Spain.

"I said a few times I want to quit tennis. I said it, but I never felt it.

"I said it to Marat a few times. I said, 'Marat, I don't know, maybe I should not play'. He said, 'Are you crazy or what? You have unbelievable opportunities, you just have to play'."

She ended up leaving Spain, after further advice from Roger Federer, at the end of last season and the decision has paid dividends.

Her strong clay-court campaign in 2009 ended with yesterday's win over top seed Safina.

Kuznetsova was the outsider coming into the match but after the first few games in cold, slow conditions on Philippe Chatrier court it became clear it was again not going to be big-hitting Safina's day.

Safina has now lost all three of her grand slam finals and her propensity to clam up on the big occasion is starting to become a serious issue.

She has lost two straight French Open finals as well as the Australian Open final earlier this year, all without winning a single set.

"Tomorrow is another day; I'll be fine," insisted Safina after her 6-4 6-2 defeat.

But deep down she will be furious at having passed up a great chance to authenticate her position as the world number one.

Kuznetsova, the US Open champion in 2004, has never been at the top of the rankings, but still has two grand slam titles in her collection.

Playing without fear and simply for enjoyment is bringing the best out of the 23-year-old, who admitted she can retire a happy woman having won her favourite two Majors.

"Everything's great. I'm just doing the thing I love - it's my passion and it's my job, this is it," she said.

"I cannot wish for more. I'm just looking forward to new battles."

Kuznetsova will climb from seventh to fifth when the new rankings come out, and can now head to Wimbledon with renewed hope of a first success at SW19.

Flawless Federer storms to historic first French crown

Roger Federer

The tennis gods brewed up a storm around Roland Garros on Sunday afternoon as they prepared to welcome a new member into their midst. Roger Federer repelled the rain, thunder, and a certain Robin Soderling to take his rightful place among the immortals of the game.

The Swiss produced a near-flawless display, delighting his fans with the full range of shots that have made him arguably the greatest player of his era, to sweep aside Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6(1) 6-4 and seal his first-ever French Open title. The triumph enabled Federer to become only the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam tournaments, and also saw him equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors.

The enormity of his achievement was evident on match point when Federer fell to the red earth of Roland Garros weeping tears of joy. Minutes later, Andre Agassi was on hand to present the Coupe des Mousquetaires and share in the Swiss legend’s delight as he held the trophy to the air, 10 years after the American had sealed his own career Slam with a far more hard-fought win here over Andrei Medvedev.

Early stranglehold

Federer owed his victory to a brilliant performance, by far his best of the tournament, in which he took a stranglehold on the match from the outset and clinically dissected his opponent’s game.

Seemingly overwhelmed by the event, Soderling was unrecognizable in the first set from the man who had swept all before him – including four-time champion Rafael Nadal – in his run to the final. The giant Swede was simply unable to find any rhythm or indeed any semblance of the form he had shown throughout the tournament, not that Federer gave him the slightest chance to settle.

The Swiss is a past master at winning Grand Slam finals and his experience was made to tell as he immediately got into his groove. His first serve was strong (firing down 16 aces throughout the match), his shot selection astute and return of serve simply breathtaking. The Swede’s wayward hitting early on made it easy for him, but Federer needed no second invitation to rack up the games and put some daylight between himself and his opponent.

Federer mixed up his shots brilliantly, slicing on the backhand side before accelerating his forehand follow-up to knock his opponent off guard. While Soderling’s earlier adversaries, including Nadal, had to a certain extent played into his hands by trying to outhit the Swede in hard-hitting baseline exchanges. Roger was not about to fall into the same trap. Making full use of his superb drop shot, tricky slice and mid-court angles, he moved the Swede forward and back almost at will.

Stormy weather

The first set was over in the blink of an eye, 6-1, wrapped up in just 23 minutes. The only thing that could knock the world No2 off his stride was the on-court intruder who briefly unsettled his concentration at 2-1 in the second set. Federer lost that game, and with storm clouds beginning to hover over Philippe Chatrier court, the momentum gradually began to shift. Little by little, Soderling righted his ship, steadying his serve and finally hitting the booming forehands that had proved so devastating earlier over the previous fortnight.

The rain gained in intensity through the middle games of the second set, and with a delay looking more of a possibility, both players looked for the break that would give them a huge psychological advantage to take into the locker room. The drizzle eased off however, and Federer’s serve kept him out of trouble heading into the match-shaping tie-break.

Brilliant tie-break

The No2 seed then seized the moment to demonstrate why he is, for so many, the greatest player of all time. He banged down four aces no less, a forehand winner and a magnificent drop shot en route to a 7-1 success that earned him a two-set lead and definitively turned the match in his favour.

In a hangover from the tie-break, Soderling immediately dropped his serve in the next game – a crucial moment as the No23 seed actually looked the more dangerous player as the third set wore on. On the few occasions that he drew Federer into a long rally, Soderling would invariably pull out a winner, but the Swiss refused to be distracted from his game plan, throwing Soderling off his rhythm with kicking second serves when his first service began to falter and sending passing shots down the line whenever the Swede came to the net.

The Swede earned his first break point of the match at 1-3 and then again had a chance to break back at 4-5, 30-40 when Federer was serving for the match. Had he taken either of those two points, the outcome of the match may have been very different.

Fitting denouement

As it was, the end was what most neutrals had been hoping for, and suitably moving. Soderling mishit on break point, Federer coolly dispatched a volley to take himself to championship point, and then a big serve proved to be enough as Soderling netted the return. Federer fell to his knees, the crowd rose to their feet and the thunder rumbled overhead…

Federer displays greatness in winning first Roland Garros

Roger Federer

This time, Rafael Nadal was not lying in wait in the final, but Roger Federer perhaps faced down a more formidable opponent – history.

In a remarkable performance given the weight of the occasion, Roger Federer won his record-tying 14th Grand Slam title 6-1 7-6 (1) 6-4 win over No23 seed Robin Soderling of Sweden.

In winning his first Roland Garros title, Federer achieved the one goal that had eluded him, taking the world’s most important clay court title with a sterling performance. He served as well as he ever has on red brick, nailing 16 aces including four in the critical second set tiebreak. He dominated with his forehand, moved fluidly, knifed his backhand and kept the Swede guessing all day long.

While Soderling came out of the tunnel extremely nervous, he fought hard in the last two sets but could never impose his quick-fisted style. “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, he makes me play bad. So that's what's so difficult playing against him,” said Soderling, who fell to 0-10 against Federer.

The Swiss world No2 was shaking with nerves in trying to close the match out as he knew that while the champion’s cup was within his grasp, it could also be snatched from him. He stood up to be counted however, serving well enough and keeping his ground strokes true, and as he usually has throughout his storied career, he answered the call.

While Federer’s three main rivals – four-time champion Rafael Nadal, No3 Andy Murray and No4 Novak Djokovic – fell before they had a chance to tango with the great Swiss, Federer still put down strong challenges by Jose Acasuso (four sets), Tommy Haas (five sets), local favourites Paul-Henri Mathieu (four sets) and Gael Monfils (three sets), No5 Juan Martin Del Potro (five sets) and finally Soderling, who had eliminated Nadal.

The Swiss managed to clear the final hurdle even though he knew that had he failed to win the title, he would have been criticized for not taking care of business when the other elite players had been vanquished. Playing with that kind of pressure match in, match out is perhaps the hardest challenge, and Federer met it head on, using his wealth of experience and a tremendous amount of guts and variety to win the title.

“He’s never shown us with pressure that he won’t step up,” said 1999 Roland Garros champion Andre Agassi who presented Federer with the winner’s trophy. “He had to deal with this one guy named Nadal who has been his Achilles heel, but every time it was thought he would not step to the plate again or that the achievements and the records would get the better of him, he’s always risen to the occasion.”

Federer had been seriously tested this year, losing a heartbreaking final to Nadal at the Australian Open, suffering a back injury and taking losses to Murray at Doha and at Indian Wells, to Stanislas Wawrinka in Monte Carlo and to Djokovic and Miami and Rome. He returned to form in Madrid, scoring his first win over Nadal in five matches and when he arrived in Paris, he felt that he could negotiate the rough waters. He may have been roughed up along the way, but his spirit was not broken.

“That's the true test of a champion and it's so fitting that he won here,” Agassi said. “He deserved it, earned it, he's come across in a generation where he was the second greatest clay courter for five years and dominating everyone except one guy. You can call it unlucky or say he stepped up to the plate and he dealt with his challenges and achieved it.”

There were those who thought that Federer did not have a Roland Garros title in him, especially after Nadal crushed him 6-1 6-3 6-0 in last year’s final. But Federer himself never lost the faith and earlier this year took six weeks off to focus on his fitness and also put in hundreds of
practice hours on clay courts. He has improved on the surface, adding a nifty drop shot that earned him dozens of points during the tournament, and seems more confident sliding into his ground strokes.

The world No2 became only the sixth man to win all Grand Slam titles and just the second, after Agassi, to win majors on all four surfaces (both Agassi and Federer won Australian Opens on Rebound Ace before the tournament switched to a more traditional hard court two years ago). Whether he is the greatest player ever will be debated well into the next decade, but he is certainly a major part of the conversation now and at the age of 27, might well have a few more majors left in him. After all, Sampras won his 14th crown when he was 31.

Perhaps the last word should be left to Federer’s opponent on Sunday. “I’ve never played anyone playing that fast,” said Soderling. “He's a great player. He doesn't have any weaknesses at all. He really deserves to be called the best player of all time.”

2009 French Open men's singles final in figures

Roger Federer and Robin Soderling

1 Roger Federer won his very first Roland Garros title at the age of 27.

2 Roger Federer had never before won a Grand Slam after twice being taken to five sets. In this year’s French Open, the Swiss beat Tommy Haas 6-7 5-7 6-4 6-0 6-2 in the fourth round and Juan Martin Del Potro 3-6 7-6 2-6 6-1 6-4 in the semi-final.

6 Roger Federer became only the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam tournaments after Fred Perry (1 Australian Open, 1 French Open, 3 Wimbledons, 3 US Opens between 1933 and 1936), Donald Budge (1 Australian Open, 1 French Open, 2 Wimbledons, 2 US Opens between1937 and 1938), Rod Laver (3 Australian Opens, 4 French Opens, 2 Wimbledons, 2 US Opens between 1960 and 1969), Roy Emerson (6 Australian Opens, 2 French Opens, 2 Wimbledons, 2 US Opens between 1961 and 1967) and Andre Agassi (4 Australian Opens, 1 French Open, 1 Wimbledon, 2 US Opens between 1992 and 2003). Like Agassi, Federer won on four different surfaces.

8 Roger Federer is one of eight players to have reached at least four Roland Garros finals. Like all his predecessors, he has now won the title.

10 Roger Federer has now won all ten matches he has played against Robin Soderling.

11 Roger Federer won the French Open on his eleventh appearance here. Just like Andre Agassi in 1999.

12 Robin Soderling will move into 12th position in the world rankings on Monday. Wins over David Ferrer, Rafael Nadal, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez will take him into his highest placing ever. Roger Federer stays at number 2 in the rankings.

14 Roger Federer equalled Pete Sampras’ record number of Grand Slam triumphs Sampras won 2 Australian Opens, 7 Wimbledons and 5 US Opens between1990 and 2002. Federer has won 3 Australian Opens, 1 French Open, 5 Wimbledons and 5 US Opens between 2003 and 2009.

25 Roger Federer is the 25th different winner of Roland Garros since the start of the Open era in 1968.

41 Roger Federer hit 41 winners (including 16 aces) in the final, and 24 unforced errors. Robin Soderling hit 24 winners and 24 unforced errors.

59 Roger Federer won his 59th career title today. He is eighth in the Open era list behind Andre Agassi with 60 titles.

1 060 000 Roger Federer pocketed the tidy sum of €1,060,000 and 2000 ATP points, while Robin Soderling earned €530,000 and 1200 ATP points.

Mladenovic sweeps to girls’ title

Kristina Mladenovic

France’s Kristina Mladenovic cruised to victory in girls’ singles final, dominating Daria Gavrilova of Russia 6-3 6-2.

16-year-old Mladenovic became the 14th French player to win the juniors title at the French Open as she despatched her opponent in a little over an hour on Suzanne Lenglen court in front of a sizeable crowd. The French girl won the tournament with flair, not dropping a single set along the way, and the former European under-14 champion plays an exciting brand of aggressive game.

The match was a contrast in styles, with Mladenovic leaning on her strong serve and forehand, while Gavrilova played more defensively, varying the height and angles of the ball. The 15-year-old Russian, coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, was too passive however, and let her opponent dictate too many points.

“Kiki” as Mladenovic is known did not have it all her own way in the final, however, and found herself two games down before she was barely out of the locker-room. Boosted by enthusiastic support of her fan club, mostly made up of members of her brother’s football team, Mladenovic got her focus back to break twice and take the first set 6-3 in 33 minutes.

Mladenovic was 2-1 up in the second set when Gavrilova fumbled a smash and crashed to her knees. The trainer strapped up her painful knee but the Russian could not drag herself back into contention – Mladenovic controlled play and again broke twice to sail to victory, bagging the second set 6-2.

The French girl celebrated her first big win by blowing kisses to her friends and family in the stands, and then climbed up to kiss Georges Goven, her coach, and Dragan, her father. After lifting her trophy, she kept on top of her emotions just long enough to thank her loved ones. “Thank you to everyone who supported me!” she smiled, “and special thanks to the person in navy blue with his head down [Goven]. I’m so happy to have won this tournament!”

Already ranked No338 in the world, Mladenovic is hoping to follow in her the footsteps of her idols Elena Dementieva and Mario Ancic by breaking into the top 100 by the end of the season. Her attacking game and powerful serve (clocked at 200 km/h in her first-round match in the main draw against Magdalena Rybarikova) will play integral parts in helping her dream come true, and perhaps she will even follow in the footsteps of Amélie Mauresmo or Alizé Cornet, both of whom won the juniors here at Roland Garros.

Sweden’s Berta takes the boys’ title

Daniel Berta

Sweden’s Daniel Berta defeated Gianni Mina of France in a 90-minute, three-set epic to claim the French Open boys’ singles championship on Sunday. The 17-year-old French youngster was unable to match the achievement of compatriot Gael Monfils five years earlier, going down 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 on Suzanne Lenglen court.

Everything seemed set fair for home favourite Mina to enjoy the most important match of his fledgling career, but his Swedish opponent remained calm throughout and handled the pressure far better. With his punchy forehands and backhands, Berta is able to find the lines just as well as his older compatriot Robin Soderling who played the men’s final later in the day.

Mina launches fight-back

Berta, who trains with Team Catella run by Soderling’s coach Magnus Norman and with whom he practised three times this week, pocketed the first set 6-1 in just 25 minutes. It was then a case of “now or never” for French youngster Mina, who took the bull by the horns, breaking Berta’s first service game and clenching his fist in celebration as his army of supporters roared him. Just like his lookalike Gael Monfils, the No11 seed Mina was rock-steady at the baseline, playing long, powerful shots and keeping his errors to a minimum.

Caribbean-born Mina served out his remaining games to take the second set 6-3. "I knew he was going to fight back,” said Berta after the match. “I was expecting it because he has a tendency to start his matches badly. I just stayed focused.”

The Swedish youngster hung tough in the decider then broke and held what were to be the last two games as Mina lost concentration and started racking up unforced errors.

“I’ve really made progress over these two weeks,” said a disappointed yet realistic Mina afterwards. “I gave it my all. It’s a real shame that I didn’t win, but I’ll be back next year.”

Berta preparing for the big time

This was the first Grand Slam title for Berta, coached by Aloïs Beust and who acted as hitting partner for the Swedish Davis Cup team in their clash against Israel earlier this year. “I’ll finish the season in the juniors then I’ll go onto the men’s circuit,” the 16 year-old said after the match, and he will no doubt be hoping to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Kent Carlsson (1984), Stefan Edberg (1983) and Mats Wilander (1981), who all won the junior title in the French before embarking on impressive careers on the men’s circuit.

Roger Federer is overcome with emotion as he wins his 14th Grand Slam title.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer drops to his knees as he wins the career Grand Slam!

Roger Federer

Roger Federer played an amazing three sets on Sunday, winning the final in under two hours.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer assumed his status as favourite by beating Soderling in three sets.

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

Roger Federer and Robin Soderling pose for the cameras before their historic final.

Federer & Soderling

Roger Federer steps confidently out on court.

Roger Federer

Svetlana Kuznetsova celebrates her win

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

What a lovely couple! Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi have a kiss for luck.

Steffi Graf - Andre Agassi

Dlouhy and Paes take their first Roland Garros title

Martina Navratilova

No3 seeds Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes captured their first ever men’s doubles Grand Slam title together with a 3-6 6-3 6-2 win over the unseeded pairing of Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman.

The Czech/Indian team had to overcome adversity when Paes was hit square in the eye by a Norman volley at the net early in the encounter. He and Dlouhy were already a break down, and by the time that the Indian had regained his composure (and put ice on his injury), Moodie and Norman – who defeated Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram as well as the No2 seeded Bryan brothers on the way to the final – were already a set to the good.

Dlouhy and Paes are made of sterner stuff however, and had overcome no less a pairing than No1 seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimomjic in the semis to prove their pedigree. They took the second set 6-3 and then raced away with the decider, breaking twice and then serving out to love, Paes banging down an ace to seal the deal before rushing into the crowd to embrace Martina Navratilova, with whom he won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 2003.

L to R: Leander Paes, Lukas Dlouhy, Dick Norman & Wesley Moodie

Men's doubles final

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova

The two women's finalists pose for the cameras.

Svetlana Kuznetsova - Dinara Safina

Kuznetsova finds herself, and first Roland Garros title

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Not everyone believed that Svetlana Kuznetsova could win another Grand Slam. Some days, even the 23-year-old didn’t believe it herself.

But the Russian picked herself up by the bootstraps a couple of months ago, told herself not be so hard on herself and that she was capable of making of her own decisions on court and off.

As a result, she put together a brilliant Roland Garros campaign and won her second career major with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over top seeded Dinara Safina.

Just like she did when she walked out on Ashe Stadium in 2004 to face Elena Dementieva in the final and won her first Grand Slam at the US Open, Kuznetsova knew she would be able to put all of her negative thoughts back in her head and focus.

“I came out there and said, ‘Everything's great,” she said. “I'm just doing my thing I love. I'm enjoying. It's my passion, what I'm doing. It's my job. And I cannot ask for more.”

And that she did, playing ambitiously, executing a nearly perfect game plan that had Safina guessing all day along and never hesitating when she had to close the match out.

It was she who looked like the world’s best clay courter, the one who wasn’t looking at her coach every shot, who trusted herself, who knew that she had a date with destiny.

It wasn’t the Kuznetsova who gagged against Anastasia Myskina in 2004, to Justine Henin in 2005, and who was stepped on by the relentless Belgian in the 2006 final.

“I said I just gonna keep trying and keep working and keep doing this,” Kuznetsova said. “This is finally my trophy. I'm really happy, and nobody one can [take that away] from me. I have won Roland Garros and I have won US Open. I have it now.”

Safina needed this major to defend her top ranked status, and played an incredibly shaky second set that ended with her on the verge of tears and cracking her racket on the ground after the loss.

“It was the pressure I put on myself because I really wanted to win. I just didn't handle it,” Safina said. “I was a little bit desperate on the court, and didn't do the things that I had to do. Didn't stay tough mentally.”

That player might have been Kuznetsova, but she had already been through some important mental wars during the tournament, knocking off the tricky Agnieszka Radwanska in three sets in the fourth round, coming back from a break down in the third set to repeal 10-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in match where she was admittedly nervous, and battling past the hard hitting Australian Sam Stosur in another close three-setter in the semifinals.

Her coach, Larisa Savchenko, whom she hired just before the clay court season, said that a more relaxed approach was key.

“If we’re calm, we’re calm,” said Savchenko “ When she’s smiling, we're smiling. She’s a great player. She was ready for situation.”

But it took nearly five years for 23-year-old Kuznetsova to find her top level again. After winning her first major, she’s been very up and down, and perhaps more down than up. Since winning the 2004 US Open and coming into Roland Garros, she had reached 21 finals, and only won six of them, not the mark of a consummate closer.

Last year, she was so upset with her play that she started telling her friends she wanted to stop.

“It's been very tough times for me, especially before French Open last year,” she said. “I lost in Rome and I left to Moscow and my coach was not happy about it. I said, ‘I don't want to train. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to go back to Spain.’ I said a few times I want to quit playing tennis. I never felt it. I said to Marat [Safin], I don't know, maybe I should not play.’ He said, ‘You are crazy or what? You have unbelievable opportunities. You just have to play.’

This probably was the worst time. It was everything was on top of me, and I had to take this decision finally to leave Spain. For me it was big. Some people were telling me to do it earlier, but I was not ready. For me, it's very important to listen to myself.”

Kuznetsova moved back to Moscow after eight years of training in Spain, but she still couldn’t find her foundation. She hired a new coach, Russia’s Olga Morozova, but that union didn’t last long. She was searching for answers and wasn’t getting the right type of advice. Either that, or she wasn’t listening hard enough.

“I came back to Moscow, and I had so many people telling me, ‘You wouldn't be able to play here. You are not able to train here, because it's too much information; it's too much destruction, too much night life or whatever.’”

Then at the Beijing Olympics, she decided to pull on the ear of Roger Federer and he gave her some simple, sound advice. She approached him with some members of the Russian women’s basketball team because they wanted to get a picture with him.

He took the photo and then could tell that she wanted something more. “He was looking at me and said, What do you want? It was big because I knew once he said he likes my tennis. I didn't believe it. I was talking to him about the problems I had. He was listening, and I said, ‘Look, I want to move from Spain. I want to go to Russia I don't know what to do. He said, ‘Look, you can only depend on yourself. You can control it. If you can concentrate and live in Moscow, do this. If you cannot, only you can judge.’ I came back to Moscow and I worked hard. I had time to do everything. I had my passion, my friends, I am in my home country. I'm very patriotic. I love being there. This is the moment it turned, because I started to work hard. I let it go. I said, ‘Whatever happens, I just do whatever I feel doing. I gave my best.”

With her second Slam title, Kuznetsova showed that her US Open title was no fluke and on Monday, she’ll sport a top 5 ranking again. She rediscovered who she was: a great fighter with top level ability.

“This is big,” she said. “Didn't happen just by luck. To have two Grand Slam trophies, it’s big.”

Svetlana Kuznetsova now has two Grand Slam titles to her name.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

2009 French Open women’s singles final in figures

Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jean Gachassin, Steffi Graf &amp%3B Dinara Safina

Here are the numbers that matter following the French Open women’s singles final…

1 Despite this defeat, Dinara Safina will still be world No1 in the new WTA rankings which come out next Monday.

2 This is Svetlana Kuznetsova’s second Grand Slam title, after the 2004 US Open. It was also her second final at Roland Garros, the first ending in defeat to Justine Henin in 2006.

2 The world No7 is the second Russian woman to reign victorious in Paris after Anastasia Myskina in 2004, who beat Elena Dementieva in the only previous 100% Russian final at Roland Garros.

5 Following this victory, Kuznetsova will go from world No7 to world No5. Her best ranking to date is No2 on the 10th September 2007.

6 This is the sixth time that Svetlana Kuznetsova has beaten a current No1 seed.

7 Dinara’s seventh double fault, on match point, cost her the title.

8 This was the eighth consecutive women’s singles final to be won in straight sets at Roland Garros.

11 Kuznetsova now has a total of 11 titles to her name, three of them on clay.

16 Dinara Safina’s match winning streak stops at 16. The Muscovite was victorious in Rome and Madrid before coming to Paris.

22 Each player made 22 unforced errors during the match.

23 Both players are 23 years-old, but Kuznetsova is the elder of the two by 10 months.

1 060 000 is the amount in Euros that Svetlana Kuznetsova wins, just like the winner of the men’s singles. Dinara Safina “only” gets 530 000 Euros.

Kuznetsova claims first French Open title as Safina crumbles

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Svetlana Kuznetsova’s five-year wait for a second Grand Slam title is over. The Russian won the 2009 French Open title, emerging victorious 6-4 6-2 after her opponent – No1 seed Dinara Safina – was paralysed with nerves throughout the 75-minute contest.

The match that pitted the best two clay-courters from 2009 deserved to be a closely fought affair. Kuznetsova had won 15 of her 17 matches on red brick this season, while Safina’s record was even more impressive: 20 victories and only one defeat. That loss came in the final in Stuttgart against none other than Kuznetsova, but the world No1 took only six days to get her revenge, defeating her friend from St Petersburg in straight sets in the final of the more prestigious Rome tournament. The two had previously lost in the final here (Kuznetsova to Justine Henin in her 2006 pomp, Safina to Ivanovic last year) and were eager to go one better.

Unlucky break

Early breaks were exchanged, but it soon became clear that Safina was struggling with the same lack of confidence that had blighted her first two Grand Slam final appearances, when she failed to provide either Ivanovic here last year or Serena Williams in Australia five months ago with any real competition.

Games went back on serve until 4-3, until Kuznetsova raced into a 0-40 lead on the back of Safina’s fourth double fault of the set. The No1 seed battled back to 30-40 but was then the victim of a cruel bounce when the ball kept low and shot under her outstretched racquet. Kuznetsova then served at 5-3 for the set, but Safina roared right back to break to love.

Any hope that this would give her the necessary confidence was short-lived as her 23-year-old opponent immediately broke again to take the set. Safina was again unfortunate in that a big serve at 15-40 was called out then correctly overruled by chair umpire Kader Nouni. Unfortunately that merely meant that the point was replayed and the Muscovite had to go through the chore of serving it again – a fate worse than death for her when she is prey to her nerves – and when Kuznetsova forced Safina to net a forehand at full stretch, the first set was in the bag.

Safina self-destructs

The second set continued where the first had left off. Kuznetsova went calmly about her business, serving well and keeping the ball in play, while the world No1 continued to self-destruct. Safina took the pace off her first service and while that increased its accuracy, it gave Kuznetsova more opportunities to dominate the exchanges and move her taller opponent about at will.

Kuznetsova broke again to lead 4-2 and then held, which meant that Safina suddenly found herself on the world’s biggest stage relying on her faulty serve to keep her in the match. At 15-40, as cameras clicked and flashed, she fired a first ball into the foot of the net, then saw her second kick high off the net cord and spin way out of court. It was a fitting end to an anticlimactic final, though it robbed Kuznetsova of a moment of glory which she had earned throughout two weeks of gritty performances, most notably when she defeated Serena Williams in a three-set quarter-final thriller.

Back on track

For Svetlana Kuznetsova, a career which promised so much when she won the US Open at the age of 19 only to stutter ever since is now definitively back on track. Dinara Safina meanwhile will be go back to being known as “Marat’s little sister” and “No1 without winning a Slam” until she can silence her critics – and more importantly the doubting voices inside her own head – and finally prove her worth in the final of a Major.

Fabrice Santoro: Federer’s biggest match ever

Fabrice Santoro

French veteran Fabrice Santoro gave us his view on Sunday’s enticing French Open men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Robin Soderling.

Fabrice, do you think that Roger Federer will at last win the French Open title?

He’s never been this close. This is the biggest match of his career. If he wins on Sunday he’ll have all four Grand Slams to his name. He’ll also equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam wins. This is the first time that he’s been the favourite in the final at Roland Garros. How is he going to handle the pressure? It’s anybody’s guess. But things are going to be even harder for Robin to handle since it’s his first final and he’s always lost against Roger. Nine losses in nine matches! That’s a statistic to keep in mind.

Despite his experience, could Roger really let stress get the best of him?

It wouldn’t be surprising. Since Rafa got eliminated everyone’s been saying it’s this year or never for Roger. As soon as he opens a newspaper or turns on the television he sees the big headlines: “Roger favourite to win”. That must be a heavy burden to bear. Let’s not forget that two weeks ago everyone thought Nadal was unbeatable.

Does Soderling’s performance here remind you of that of Dutchman Martin Verkerk in 2003?

Yeah, it’s sort of the same thing happening this year. Robin has appeared out of nowhere. But let’s be clear, he fought for his wins. He had an incredibly tough draw. It doesn’t get much tougher than Ferrer, Nadal, Davydenko and Gonzalez. He must be flying now. His confidence has been given a huge boost after such a run. But he could freeze on the big day. Sort of like Verkerk in his final (who was beaten 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 by Ferrero, ed).

How do you explain such a change in Soderling’s game and behaviour over the course of a few weeks?

Perhaps his coach (Magnus Norman) has helped him or maybe it’s just maturity. I don’t know. In any case, something clicked, that’s for sure. We’re seeing a new Robin on the court. He’s calm, relaxed and in control. Beating Nadal gives you a little extra too.

Soderling is not very popular with his fellow players. What do you all think of his incredible run in this tournament?

We like how he plays, but his personality is another matter. Everyone rates his game. He hasn’t got where he is by chance: his success is well-deserved.

The crowd on centre court will no doubt be 100% behind Federer. Do you think this might influence the match?

Yes, I think that it might help Roger. The whole of France will be behind him. It was really touching to see how the supporters cheered and encouraged him against Del Potro. The spectators here are very knowledgeable. They know that a victory for Federer would be historic. And they also know that Roger is one of the best clay-courters in the world. He’s hardly ever lost to anyone except Nadal on clay.

What tactics should he use to wrong-foot Soderling?

The same ones he used against Del Potro. Robin plays very well laterally, but less well at the net. He should use his drop shots, which were very effective against Del Potro. The weather conditions will also play an important role. The more humid it is, the heavier the clay will be, and the more effective Roger’s drop shots will be.

Against Del Potro, Federer had some difficulty on the backhand return. Why did he play so many mid-court backhands?

Because the Argentinean’s serve is so fast and powerful, even his second serve. Roger didn’t have time to take them on the forehand, and he wanted to force Del Potro to the net.

Physically, which player has the advantage?

Both players are in excellent shape, but Roger is looking particularly fit at the moment.

Could a win at Roland Garros signal the beginning of the end for Roger? He is about to become a father and will have won every title possible. It must be hard to stay motivated after that…

No, I don’t think so at all. It’s him against history and he won’t be happy with just equalling Pete Sampras’ record. On the contrary: if he wins here he will be even more focused, and I can see him winning Wimbledon too.

"Juan Martin fell Potro"

Juan Martin Del Potro

Agassi pulling for Federer title

Steffi Graf - Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi, back at Roland Garros to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his title round comeback win over Andrei Medvedev, says that if Federer wins the final on Sunday over Robin Soderling, he could be called the greatest player ever. A victory on Sunday would see him tie American Pete Sampras with the most Grand Slam titles on 14.

“It ends the discussion of where he fits in the history of the game,” said Agassi, who is here with wife Steffi Graf who also won the 1999 Roland Garros title. “It’s not so much a question of Pete, if it wasn’t for (four-time champion Rafael) Nadal, he probably would have won a handful of these things, so nobody would underestimate where he deserves to fit in this game. This is going to mean so much to him, to have that hole filled. It’s something he’s going to earn tomorrow and I think it will to change his life.”

If Federer completes the feat, he will join Don Budge, Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Rod Laver and Agassi as the only men to have won titles at all four majors. Agassi, who lost in the 1990 and 1991 finals at the French before finally raising the trophy in 1999, said that the feat was the defining moment in his career.

“It changed my career and as a result my life,” he said. “It’s probably the most profound moment in my career, getting over the obstacles and doubts I had to win here. (Sunday) there’s a chance to see history and I think Roger being the second best clay courter over the last five years, earning a spot in the final four different times, deserves this more than I did. It would be privilege for the game to see history being made and in some ways it feels like destiny for him. It’s going to be exciting.”

Agassi added that going around the block all four times is one of the greatest achievements in sports. “I’m so proud of it because every surface, every condition demands something different from the physical and mental challenges and rewards you differently,” said Agassi, who was at Roland Garros on the behalf of Longines, the official timekeeper of the French Open. “I’m pulling for Roger because he’s earned this opportunity and in many respects deserves it. If it wasn’t for one freak of nature from Mallorca, and that’s a compliment where I come from, he would have won this tournament a few times. He’s extraordinarily talented and (has such) grace on court – watching him play is something special to see and if he does it (on Sunday), he’ll know what an accomplishment it was.”

Women’s doubles: Same again for Spanish pairing

Medina Garrigues - Virginia Ruano Pascual

Despite Rafael Nadal’s early exit, Spain will still feature on the honours list of the 2009 French Open. Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual overpowered Victoria Azarenka and Elena Vesnina 6-1 6-1 in 1 hour 19 minutes to take the women’s doubles title. The Spanish duo made all their experience pay against the Russian and Belarusian, who were only playing their 19th match together.

Multiple winners

For Virginia Ruano Pascual this was a 10th Grand Slam title, eight of which were earned alongside her previous partner Paola Suarez. For Anabel Medina Garrigues, this was a second Grand Slam triumph.

This may be the last Roland Garros title for 35 year-old Ruano Pascual however. Seconds after lifting the Simone-Mathieu cup, she announced that this could be her last French Open. “I want to dedicate this victory to my father. It’s his birthday today. This is emotional for me because I don’t plan on coming back next year. I’m going to stop here,” she said.

A bright future

At 19 and 22 respectively, Azarenka and Vesnina have their future ahead of them. Watching them joke and laugh on court during the last games of their match, it is clear that the two are on the same wavelength. Considering their brilliant performance at the tournament, they can look forward to claiming a major title someday.

“It was great,” grinned Vesnina. “We had fun out there. Sorry if the match wasn’t spectacular but we gave it our all! Thank you Paris!” The Parisian public awaits the men’s doubles final on Saturday, which will feature Dluohy and Paes against Moodie and Norman.

Fabulous Federer stands firm to make final

Roger Federer

Roger Federer edged closer to tennis immortality on Friday after standing firm in the face of a Juan Martin Del Potro onslaught to win in five gruelling sets 3-6 7-6(2) 2-6 6-1 6-4. In one of the all-time great French Open semi-finals, the second seed drew on all his experience, class and courage to grind down an adversary who looked in control and on course for victory for long periods, before tiring noticeably.

The Swiss great now knows he is one match from making history. Should he beat Robin Soderling in Sunday’s final, Federer will become only the sixth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles. He will also equal Pete Sampras' all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles.

Playing his 200th Grand Slam match and, incredibly, 20th consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, the Swiss was made to fight all the way by fifth seed Del Potro. Playing in his first-ever Grand Slam semi, the Argentinean steamrolled his illustrious elder for two of the first three sets but proved unable to sustain his barrage of booming serves and pummelling ground strokes as the match drew into a fourth hour.

Federer in contrast upped his game at just the right time, drawing level at one set all when under pressure and then making the most of the Argentinean’s dip in form in the fourth to drive his advantage home. The fifth set was all about who could deal with the fatigue and the pressure, and at that game Federer is a past master. A brilliant inside-out forehand sealed the match after 3 hours 29 minutes to send Federer and his admiring fans into raptures.

Early dominance

The match was an epic, and like all epics could have gone either way. Del Potro began as he meant to go on, crashing down aces from a great height (16 in all to Roger’s 5) and thrashing winners all over the court (55 to Federer’s 50). The force of his groundstrokes was a sight to behold, and try as he might Federer was unable to prevent a break, first in the fifth game and then again in the ninth. The opener was wrapped up 6-3 in 38 minutes.

Things were looking ominous for the Swiss, but he is not one of the all-time greats for nothing. If he could not find a way past the Argentinean’s booming serve, he would hang in there and wait either for an opportunity to arise or for his opponent to miss. The latter finally occurred in a high pressure second set tiebreak, when Del Potro netted twice and hit long to hand him the set 7-6(2).

That proved to be crucial, because the 20 year old was right back on hard-hitting form in the third set, which he took 6-2 in 36 minutes, breaking Federer twice in the process. As in the first set, there was little the former world number one could do about it.

Turning tide

Then, at last, Del Potro showed signs of weakening. His hitherto impeccable first serve began to malfunction and his groundstrokes to misfire. As a result, Federer gained his first break points since the opening set in the first game of the fourth set, failed to capitalise, but made no mistake in the fourth game and again in the sixth to seize the set 6-1 in 38 minutes.

Federer now had the bit between his teeth. He began running around his backhand to fire crosscourt winners and upped his first serve percentage to keep his opponent under pressure. He also used the drop shot to great effect as the conditions became heavier.

It was no surprise when the Swiss broke Del Potro in the opening game of the fifth set and then led 3-1. But just when we were all thinking it was all but over, Del Potro fought back, finding the corners again to level at 3-3. That proved to be a last hurrah for the brave youngster. Federer broke back immediately to lead 4-3 and served out for the set at 5-4.

One match away

Federer has now equalled Ivan Lendl’s all-time record of 19 Grand Slam finals and is set to appear in his fourth consecutive Roland Garros final on Sunday. With Rafael Nadal, his nemesis of the past three years, safely out of the tournament, and only the unheralded Swede Robin Soderling standing between him and his Holy Grail, Federer will be feeling confident he is nearly there.

But he also knows that Soderling has been playing awesome tennis all fortnight, and that nothing, least of all immortality, should be taken for granted…

Soderling holds off Gonzalez to reach final

Robin Soderling
Sweden’s Robin Soderling roared into his first Roland Garros final with a heroic 6-3 7-5 5-7, 4-6 6-4 victory over Fernando Gonzalez on Friday. The No23 seed led by two sets, was hauled back, and then staged a thrilling fightback from 1-4 down in the final set to prevail. The calmer, gutsier player won it on the day, resisting a relentless charge by the more experienced Chilean.

The two traded early breaks in the first set, before the 24-year-old Swede broke the Chilean again to 4-2 with a huge forehand down the line. In the final game of the set, Soderling nailed a big serve out wide and followed it with a vicious forehand down the line, before watching the No12 seed fly a forehand long on set point.

The second set could have told the tale of the contest, as the pumped-up Chilean battled as hard as he could but often appeared a step behind the zoning Swede. With both men serving with authority, there were no break points until 4-4, when Soderling began to play more ambitiously. He was unable to convert any of his three break points however, and the Chilean kept the ball low off his backhand side, crunching his forehand and serves and held to 5-4.

Gonzalez had a set point in the next game, but Soderling stood tall and smoked an ace, then quickly seized the momentum in the next game, breaking Gonzalez at the fourth opportunity when, off-balance, the Chilean erred on a forehand and cracked his racket on the ground. The Swede easily held to take the set 7-5 when Gonzalez missed a return
of serve.

While Gonzalez might have become totally frustrated and lost control, he continued to grind in the third set and it finally paid off, as he matched Soderling forehand for forehand. Never letting down, he gained two break points with Soderling serving at 5-6, returned a ball deeply and saw the Swede commit an uncharacteristic unforced forehand error to give the Chilean the set 7-5.

In the fourth set, the 28-year-old Gonzalez blew his top in the ninth game over a questionable line call. After a Soderling groundstroke fell close to the line with the Chilean serving, Gonzalez battled with both the chair umpire and the lineperson, indicating that the latter was pointing to the wrong mark. After losing the battle, he sat down on the clay and wiped out the mark with his backside, possibly an Open Era first.

But instead of completely losing his cool, grew even more motivated Gonzalez managed to hold to 5-4 and then broke the Swede to win the set when Soderling hit a forehand wide.

Gonzalez raced out to 3-0 lead in the fifth set, but the Swede, who had spent four and a half hours more on court than his foe entering the match, pulled every last ounce of energy to mount a brilliant comeback.

Down 2-4, he broke to 3-4. Then after Soderling held, Gonzalez lost his cool again and this time it did for him. The Chilean questioned call after call in the eighth game and he was finally broken when the Swede courageously smoked a backhand return of serve down the line winner.

Soderling finally won the 3 hour, 28 minute match with a gorgeous forehand down the line.

Soderling has enjoyed an amazing tournament, ousting four time-champion Rafael Nadal, bullying former semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko and then overcoming 2007 Australian Open finalist Gonzalez.

Perhaps more remarkably, this is the first time he has won nine matches in a row on any surface. Prior to this current streak, the Swede had not won more than two matches in a row since taking the Lyon title in October of 2008.

But the Swede put his nose to the grindstone earlier this year and it has obviously paid off. Soderling became the first Swede to reach the final since his coach, Magnus Norman, did it in 2000. He is looking to become the first Swedish champion here since three-time winner Mats Wilander in 1988.

Men’s singles final: R. Federer (No2) – R. Soderling (No23)

Roger Federer
VS.Robin Soderling
Roger Federer has enjoyed a magnificent career, but this final is probably his most important match to date. If he wins, the Swiss maestro will become one of the all-time greats, matching Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles. But above all, he will have won all four Grand Slams, a feat which only five men have managed to do so far, and only Andre Agassi has achieved on four different surfaces. Roger was unlucky enough to come up against an on-fire Rafael Nadal in his last three finals on the red clay, but this time the Mallorcan is not the one standing between him and the trophy.Robin Soderling has been THE big surprise at Roland Garros this year. Up until now, he had never even made it past the third round in a Grand Slam. Now here he is, following in the footsteps of his compatriots Björn Borg and Mats Wilander, who both won their first Grand Slam in Paris. Soderling has had an amazing run so far at the French. He created a stir when he took down David Ferrer, shocked the world when he upset Rafael Nadal, and then moved on to demolish Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez. This line-up of clay masters could not prevail against the strength of the Swede’s game. So why should Federer be any different?
Somewhat paradoxically, Roger has never been closer to getting his hands on the famous Coupe des Mousquetaires, just when many claim he is not playing his best tennis. After struggling past Jose Acasuso in the second round, the No2 seed was staring defeat in the face during his fourth-round tie against Tommy Haas, before fighting back from two sets down for only the fifth time in his career. In his semi-final, the 13-time Grand Slam winner was in serious difficulty against Juan Martin Del Potro, but the fact that he managed to turn things around in the face of adversity will surely reinforce his mental attitude. The father-to-be is also in excellent shape at the moment. One word comes to mind when describing Soderling’s form: blazing. The only time he showed any real signs of fatigue was in the semi-final against Gonzalez. Trailing 4-1 in the last set, Magnus Norman’s student dug deep in his reserves to beat the Chilean in the final stretch. With a rest day on Saturday, he will surely be in form and ready to battle it out for the title.
As we have said many times before, Roger Federer’s strengths are too many to mention in just a few lines. The Swiss No2 seed is the most complete player in the history of tennis and this clay season the 27-year-old has introduced a new weapon to his already well-stocked arsenal: the drop shot, which he has used with amazing efficiency during this tournament. Coupled with his outstanding serve, devastating forehand, accurate volley, mighty mental attitude and supreme physique, the Swiss star is a terrifying prospect to face across the net. Soderling is all about power. His game is capable of destruction. His ultra-powerful forehand is perhaps the best on tour, and he has a heavy two-handed backhand. His serve - even his second serve - is exceptionally strong. During his spectacular match against Nadal it was clear that the Swede is capable of crushing anyone. That said, pace-changing and patience are not really his thing…
Roger Federer seems to have all the tools he needs to claim the title. His sliced backhand has cut the Swede up on various occasions in the past. But Roger has a lot riding on this final, and must serve well from the start if he wants to avoid being put under any extra pressure. Above all, he must make a strong start and establish his ascendancy very early on. The main reason behind Robin’s marvellous run at Roland is the transformation of his mental game. In the past, his boiling character betrayed him. Now, his psychological game is rock solid, based on his performance against Nadal and Gonzalez. But what about the final? Will he be able to keep his head? His opponent has experience on his side. The beginning of the match will no doubt be key to the victory.
The Swiss maestro leads 9-0 in this head-to-head. Federer has a clear lead over Soderling, even on fast surfaces where the Swede, in theory, feels more at ease. Last year Roger beat Soderling in three sets in the second round at Wimbledon, their only Grand Slam encounter so far. On clay, Soderling has lost twice to Federer: in Hamburg last year and in Madrid this year. He didn’t win a single set. In fact, the Swede has won only one set in their nine matches, and that was on grass in Halle in 2005.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Robin Soderling

Robin Soderling

Fernando Gonzalez tries out his torero moves...

Fernando Gonzalez

Fernando Gonzalez questions the umpire's call.

Fernando Gonzalez


Dominika Cibulkova - Dinara Safina

Bryan and Huber take mixed doubles thriller

finale double mixte

Doubles legends Bob Bryan and Liezel Huber were stretched all the way but emerged victorious from a thrilling match tie-break to take the mixed doubles crown, defeating Marcelo Melo et Vania King 5-7 7-6 10-7.

The pair have over 80 doubles titles between them but they certainly did not have it all their own way, despite the fact that Melo and King had little experience playing together. Breaks were exchanged in the first set before Bryan and Huber were broken again in the twelfth game, handing the set to their less storied opponents. Brazilian men’s doubles specialist Melo (who along with habitual partner Andre Sa was involved in a 28-26 final set at Wimbledon two years ago) and King battled through the second set but it was Huber and Bryan who took a conventional tie-break, sending the match into a super tie-break – first to ten, two points clear. Bryan pounced on King’s serve to mini-break at 8-7 and that was enough for the Americans to take the title.

The win made up for defeats in the men’s and women’s doubles for Bryan and Huber, who were full of humour at the press conference after the match. “I was just trying to be Cara Black out there,” said Bryan referring to the women’s doubles partner with whom Huber has enjoyed so much success. “A little taller, but the same!” he grinned. “Playing with Liezel was a lot of fun. She's No1 in the world and plays really smart tennis. I learned a lot from her.”

Safina books second successive final slot

Dinara Safina

Last year’s beaten finalist Dinara Safina will get another chance to win the French Open after she defeated Dominika Cibulkova 6-3 6-3 in Thursday’s first semi-final.

The Russian was nervous and far from her best, but her inexperienced Slovakian opponent did not possess the variety of shots to knock the top seed off her pedestal. Safina will face Svetlana Kuznetsova in a clay-court final for the third time this year, after losing in Stuttgart and winning the title in Rome.

Safina had swept into the quarter-finals on the back of some incredibly dominant tennis, only to lose her rhythm in the last eight when it took her three sets to overcome the pugnacious Victoria Azarenka. Cibulkova was the surprise package, the diminutive Slovak taking advantage of upsets to Venus Williams and Nadia Petrova in her half of the draw to make her first ever Grand Slam semi-final.

Fast start then change of tack

Despite having lost their only two previous encounters, Cibulkova was quicker out of the blocks and opened up an immediate 2-0 lead, slicing two delicious drop-shots that the Russian could not reach. For some reason, the No20 seed then went away from variations in length and attempted to out-hit her Russian opponent – a strange tactic given Safina’s 20 centimetre height advantage.

Fans of deft tennis were left ruing Cibulkova’s change of tack, as the match turned into a baseline battle from which the 1.80m Safina was always favourite to emerge victorious. The Russian was nervous on serve, as has often been the case in the past when the stakes have been high, and she often used the slice or the kick on her first service rather than taking risks. But with Cibulkova smashing everything back at her, she merely had to stay in rallies until the Slovak invariably netted a forehand.

Nervous but comfortable

Safina took five games in a row, playing safe tennis and waiting for Cibulkova to miss her spots at the end of rallies, and took the opening set at a relative canter 6-3, forcing the Slovak into 19 errors with her sheer strength. And unfortunately for the crowd, the diminutive Dominika continued to fight fire with fire in the second, despite it being a battle that she was unlikely to win. Safina’s service became even more shaky, with five more double faults coming, often on big points, to add to the two from the first set, but in truth she was never really stretched, breaking at 3-2 and coasting – nervously – home.

Her previous two Grand Slam finals – here last year and at the Australian Open last January – saw Safina little more than a hollow shell due to lack of confidence, particularly against Serena Williams in Melbourne where she described herself as “little more than a ball girl on court”. She will have to silence the doubts in her mind on Saturday if she is to win her first ever Grand Slam – as befits a true world No1.

Life on tour with Mats Wilander

Mats Wilander

Joining the ATP or WTA circuit is something akin to embarking on an endless world tour. asked some of tennis’s major stars for an insight into their life as a perennial sporting backpacker. Today we chat to former world number one Mats Wilander, who triumphed here at the French in 1982, 1985 and 1988.

Which is the most relaxing city on tour?
Melbourne. It’s beautiful, there are lots of open spaces and the people are really nice.

Which is the most stressful city?
New York. It’s so fast-moving and there are loads of traffic jams. But it’s a nice city - I even lived there for a while. Tokyo and Beijing are also stressful for me because I can’t read any of the signs!

Which city has the best nightlife?
Paris. It’s really lively. There are always bars and restaurants open. I really like it here.

Name an amazing place you’ve visited.
The Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

In which city would you most like to buy a house?
London. And Paris, if I spoke better French.

Where are the best beaches?
The Bahamas. There are also some nice beaches in Sweden, but you have to wear your woollies!

What’s your favourite food?
My mum’s cooking.

Who are the friendliest people?
The Australians.

What’s the worst thing about travelling?
Not knowing whether the bed will be comfortable. That really stresses me out! As long as I have a good mattress, I’m happy.

What item do you always have in your suitcase?
Socks and underwear. But I always take a tennis racket too, even on holiday…just in case I find a court to play on.

Which is your favourite tournament?
Roland Garros.

Where are the best spectators?
At Roland Garros.

Who is your best friend on the tour?
Mikaël Pernfors and Joakim Nyström.

Nadal’s only human: Albert Costa

Albert Costa

2002 French Open champion Albert Costa spoke to us exclusively about Rafael Nadal’s shock defeat, evoked memories of his sweet victory on the famous red clay and tipped Roger Federer for the title.

How did you feel after Nadal’s defeat? Did you see it coming?
I think it was an enormous surprise. Rafa really wanted to win the tournament, but you can’t win every match. The match unbalanced him for several reasons. First and foremost there was Soderling’s incredible performance. But from the moment he arrived in Paris Rafa had not been feeling right. A combination of the two led to him being knocked out so early on.

You say that he had not been feeling right. What do you mean exactly?
I think he wasn’t feeling 100%. In practice he wasn’t managing to fine-tune his shots, he wasn’t feeling the ball. Normally he has no such problems, even if he has a few hiccups in the first rounds. This time it wasn’t the case. But Rafa’s only human, and needs to feel good on the court in order to win.

How do you feel when you come back to Roland Garros? What memories do you have of your great victory over Juan Carlos Ferrero here seven years ago?
As soon as I go out on court or into the changing rooms, the memories come flooding back. Now I have come to realise how difficult it is to win such a tournament. At the time it was my goal, something I dreamt about, and so I was ready to give it my all. I wasn’t aware of the importance of winning a tournament like Roland Garros.

Who is your favourite to lift the trophy? Maybe Federer, who lost out to Nadal on the previous three occasions?
Roger’s the favourite, simply because of his experience and his results. It’s never easy to pull a victory off, but he really wants it and is capable. He’ll have to control his nerves though…

Finally, what do you think of the Spanish version of, which has been produced for the last six years now?
I think it’s great because a lot of people in the Spanish-speaking world take an interest in Roland Garros, not only in Spain but also in Latin America. I think it’s a really good idea and I'm sure there are a lot of users.