Federer set to gain last jewel in his Slam crown

Outsider Soderling stands between Swiss great and missing title in Paris final

In the eyes of many he is already the greatest player ever to pick up a tennis racket and tomorrow Roger Federer will have the chance to convince all but the most hard-hearted of doubters.

For four years in succession Federer’s hopes of winning the French Open, the only jewel missing from his Grand Slam crown, have been dashed by Rafael Nadal, one of the finest clay-court players in history, but now the only man standing in his way is a 24-year-old Swede who arrived here a fortnight ago as one of the game’s journeymen.

Given his extraordinary results of the last fortnight you would write off Robin Soderling at your peril, but the contrast between the finalists could hardly be greater. Soderling, who yesterday added Fernando Gonzalez’s scalp to those of Nadal, Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer when he beat the Chilean 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, had never gone beyond the third round in 21 previous appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.

Federer, who beat Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 in an even more dramatic semi-final, is chasing a victory that would see him equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles. It would also put him alongside Fred Perry, Donald Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi as the only men to have won all four majors. His appearance in his 19th Grand Slam final equals Ivan Lendl’s all-time record and he has failed to make only one of the last 16, when he was suffering from glandular fever in Australia last year.

Had it not been for Soderling’s exploits of the last fortnight you would dismiss out of hand the Swede’s chances of winning tomorrow. The world No25 has lost all nine of his matches against Federer, winning just one set along the way, but he is promising to go into the final with the positive approach that has reaped such rich rewards. “As I said before the match against Nadal, if I don’t believe I can win there’s no point going on the court,” Soderling said. “I think I have a chance. I’ve lost to him a lot of times, but they have been close matches.”

Federer, who has lost the last three finals here against Nadal, insisted there were “no easy Grand Slam finals” and added: “You always know the player on the other side of the net has also won six matches and is in the shape of his life.” The world No 2’s form, moreover, has wavered. Jose Acasuso and Paul-Henri Mathieu took him to four sets and Tommy Haas led him by two sets to love.

Del Potro had not won a set in his five previous matches against Federer, but the 20-year-old Argentine is a growing force and played superbly. Using all of his 6ft 6in frame, the world No 5 served with awesome power until the latter stages and was not broken until the fourth game of the fourth set. His game, built on huge ground-strokes struck from the baseline, may be one-dimensional, but he gives the ball a mighty whack and makes few mistakes. Del Potro had to save break points in his first two service games, but from 2-2 he raced away with the first set.

In his next three service games Federer was broken to 15, held after trailing 0-40 and was broken to love. If the match had a turning point it might have been at the start of the second set tie-break. On the first point Federer hit a defensive lob which Del Potro could have put away with a smash, but instead he took the cautious option by letting the ball bounce and put his subsequent forehand into the net. Federer took the tie-break 7-2 as Del Potro, having shown no sign of nerves, now made a succession of errors.

His response, nevertheless, could not be faulted as he took the third set by breaking in the first and seventh games. Now it was Federer’s turn to fight back, levelling the match by taking five games in succession to win the fourth set. By this stage fatigue was starting to creep into Del Potro’s game and Federer broke in the opening game of the decider. Although the Argentine broke back to level at 3-3 his serve was starting to fall apart – “I was feeling tired and tense,” he admitted – and in the following game he served a double-fault on break point.

He saved Federer’s first match point at 3-5, but on the second in the next game the Swiss hit a forehand winner. The 15,000 spectators in Philippe Chatrier Court erupted in celebration. The Paris crowd love Federer for his elegance and class and he can be certain of their support tomorrow.

Bjorn Borg, who had sent Soderling a text message to thank him for stopping Nadal’s attempt to break his record of four successive victories here, was in the crowd as his compatriot became the seventh Swede to reach the French Open final. Gonzalez, with his forehand misfiring, looked a shadow of the player who had beaten Andy Murray in the quarter-finals, though he dug in to take the third and fourth sets, winning both by converting his only break points.

Soderling, in contrast, struck the ball with the freedom he had shown in his previous matches here. His big serve and booming groundstrokes are his greatest weapons, but what remains to be seen is whether he has the nerve for an occasion that promises to be one of the greatest in French Open history.

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk