Roger Federer's quest to win the French Open, the only Grand Slam title which had eluded him, finally ended when he beat Robin Soderling here in last night's final. In claiming his 14th Grand Slam victory, which equals Pete Sampras's all-time record, the 27-year-old Swiss also became only the sixth man to win all four of the game's major crowns.
"It's maybe my greatest victory, or certainly the one that removes the most pressure off my shoulders," Federer said after his 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 triumph. "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 Roland Garros."
Having lost to Rafael Nadal in the three previous finals, Federer needed less than two hours to beat Soderling, a 24-year-old Swede who had never previously gone beyond the third round of a Grand Slam tournament. The match was interrupted early in the second set by an intruder who taunted Federer before being rugby-tackled by a security guard.
Federer, who said the incident was "a touch scary", admitted that he had felt nervous throughout the match. "It was very hard mentally for me because my mind was always wondering: 'What if? What if I win this tournament? What does that mean? What will I possibly say?' You can't help it, but you have to tell yourself that once you win you'll get all the time to think about all these things.
"I was very nervous at the beginning of the third set because I realised how close I was. You can imagine how difficult the last 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."
Federer said that the years of waiting to win here had made victory all the more special. "It was only in the last few years that I realised what a great player I could actually become if I won the French Open," he said. "I started to love this city and the people and the centre court, whereas in the beginning I had such a hard time getting used to the conditions here."
He added: "I knew that the day Rafa wouldn't be in the final I would be there and I would win. I always knew that and I believed in it. That's exactly what happened." Soderling, who never recaptured his form of the previous week, was gracious in defeat. "I've never played anyone playing that fast," he said. "He doesn't have any weaknesses at all. He really deserves to be called the best player of all time."
Sampras, who watched the match at his home in Los Angeles, said he was happy for Federer. "What he's done over the past five years has never, ever been done – and probably will never, ever happen again," he said. "Regardless if he won there or not, he goes down as the greatest ever. This just confirms it." Nadal said that he would be sending Federer a congratulatory text message "because he deserves the title the most".