Robin Soderling loves Paris in the springtime and the runner-up at Roland Garros for the last two years discovered yesterday that the French capital also has its attractions in the depths of November. Soderling capped an excellent week on the other side of the city at Bercy's Palais Omnisports when he beat Gaël Monfils, the local hero, 6-1, 7-6 to claim the first Masters Series title of his career. This victory will take him above Andy Murray into fourth place in today's updated world rankings list.
The 26-year-old Swede, who saved three match points to beat another Frenchman, Michael Llodra, in the semi-finals, won in just 77 minutes. Soderling does not move as well as his main rivals but nobody can match his weight of shot. His power was too much for Monfils, who lost in the final for the second year in succession to the disappointment of a 14,500 capacity crowd.
Monfils never reached the heights he had hit in beating Murray and Roger Federer in his previous two matches. The world No 14 improved in the second set but was thoroughly outplayed in the tie-break, which Soderling won 7-1.
Soderling was regarded as little more than a journeyman until his victory over Rafael Nadal at last year's French Open, but he has not looked back in the last 18 months. This was the sixth singles title of his career and the first time he has ever won two tournaments in a year following his victory at Rotterdam in February.
With the ATP World Tour Finals beginning at London's O2 Arena in six days' time, the season-ending finale has been given more spice by the tightness of the world rankings. Fewer than 200 points separate the trio ranked from No 3 to No 5 – Murray would have overhauled Novak Djokovic and become world No 3 if he had won two more matches in Paris – and they will all be determined to be in the top four come the Australian Open in January. Lower-ranked players have to face the top guns earlier in the tournament, as Murray discovered in Melbourne this year when his temporary drop to No 5 meant that he had to play Nadal in the quarter-finals.
The Scot, having lost to Monfils in three sets on Friday night, has now returned to London in good heart for the big finale. "It was a great week in Paris," he said. "I had three long matches, which is the best thing to take away from it, and there's good match fitness going into London.
"I played a lot of serve-and-volley, which I hope I'll be able to use in London too. I also managed to turn a couple of matches around which weren't going my way."