Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finally, Tears of Joy as Federer Secures 14th Slam

If Rafa Nadal is the King of Clay, then Roger Federer is the King of Tennis.

On an overcast, blustery day in Paris, Federer's light was shining brightly throughout, as the greatest tennis legend of his era, and perhaps all others as well, coolly dismissed Swede Robin Soderling in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4.

All French Open finals are special, but this years version went above and beyond. The French crowd was abuzz prior to the match, with celebrities, dignitaries, and tennis legends all perched on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the Swiss Maestro's quest for tennis immortality.

They got what they wanted and then some.

Unlike many of his matches at Roland Garros this year, Federer took control of the affair from the onset. Using a variety of power, precision, and concise drop volleys to keep the nervous Soderling off balance, Federer raced quickly to a commanding lead and in the process seized the psychological advantage over the 6'4" Soderling.

The Swede seemed unable to access the strokes that had enabled him to overwhelm the rest of his opponents en route to his first Grand-Slam final appearance, and much of this had to do with Federer's convincing play.

Federer broke the Swede's serve in each of his first two service games, using stultifying drop shots and deep service returns to confuse the suddenly innefectual Soderling. After the players traded holds to go to 5-1, Federer secured his third break in four games (and the set) with Soderling parked helplessly at the net as a backhand passing shot whizzed by him.

In addition to securing the three breaks, Federer's serve was working for him as well, as he did not face a break point, and only lost one point on his serve during the lopsided twenty-three minute first set.

But Soderling seemed to shake the nerves as play continued, and suddenly suspense began to build as a light rain started to fall midway through the second set.

With Soderling serving to force a second set tiebreaker, Federer managed to bring him to deuce, but the brawny Swede gutted out the hold.

Prior to the onset of the second set tiebreak, there was a sense that the match could go either way. But as it got underway, it quickly became apparent that this was to be Federer's day.

A Federer ace started the tiebreak, and was met with boisterous approval from the crowd. Then Soderling reminded the crowd that he was still on the court with an ace of his own.

But his Soderling's presence, like so many of Federer's opponents on these grand stages, was quickly forgotten again.

In a remarkable display of clutch tennis and a champions poise and sense of timing, Federer reeled off six consecutive points, including four aces on his only four serves of the tiebreak. With the crowd on its feet, relishing in the moment and fully resonating with the significance of this historic match, Federer had all but slayed the mighty dragon known as Soderling.

The clinical precision with which Federer deployed his strokes in this tiebreaker, under such heavy pressure and expectations from both himself and all of the tennis world, was truly surreal. It was beyond clutch. Remarkably, while we have all been so busy taking Federer to task for his diminished skills and his need for a full-time coach, the elegant and imposing (and stubborn) legend was busy ignoring our uneducated opinions and in the process preparing the most electric display of tennis of his whole career for this moment.

At two sets to none, it was all over but the coronation.

As the third set progressed with Federer up a break and Soderling just trying to stay close, Federer's face wore a look of indescribable emotional depth. It seemed as if he was a fan of himself, as if he were able to stand both outside and within the moment, both appreciating and basking in the glory of the greatness that he was in the process of achieving and also blocking it out (albeit barely) to go about the business at hand.

As he served for the match, there was a thrilling sense of heaviness in the air. The unique sense that this was the moment the crowd had been waiting for permeated the rafters of Stade Philippe Chatrier, and worked it's way through everyone in attendance. What had seemed so impossible at the start of this French Open was now moments from fruition.

Federer missing a swinging volley long to give Soderling a break point opportunity only served to heighten the intense drama, the anticipation, and the enduring love and appreciation for a man who has meant everything to tennis for so many years.

Mercifully, Soderling shanked a forehand and wasted his break point opportunity.

"I was very nervous at the beginning of the third set because I knew how close I was," said a jubilant Federer. "The last game, obviously you can imagine how difficult that game was. It was almost unplayable for me, because I was just hoping to serve some good serves and hoping that he was going to make four errors. It was that bad."

Two points later it was over. The ever-elusive 14th Grand-Slam title ties Federer with Pete Sampras for best all time, and his first French Open title makes Federer only the sixth male player to have ever achieved the career Grand-Slam in the history of tennis.

As Federer sank to the clay when soderling netted his match point return, there was a sense of relief amongst the jubilation. This is a man who carried the sting of four consecutive thrashings at the hands of Rafael Nadal with him to Paris this year. This is a man that never hesitated when given the chance to try again. When the opportunity presented himself, Federer searched inside himself for the perfect match to answer the call.

Predictably, he found it.

They used to say it with a lack of confidence. Now they are saying it with conviction: Roger Federer, THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME.