V for Vindicated: Roger Federer Wins the Elusive French Open
Some wrote him off as a thing of the past, no longer a force to be reckoned with! Some said he no longer had it in him to win, that he had forgotten how to!
After the mauling he got from Nadal last year at the Roland Garros finals, no way would he ever win that title.
Well, Roger Federer proved them all wrong!
In one of the best performances of his career, Roger Federer won the French Open title that has eluded him for so long and finally inscribed his name on the Coupe De Mousquetaires.
In doing so, he also made a very strong case for himself to be regarded as the greatest player of all time.
Roger Federer won the French Open by defeating Robin Soderling and completed a Career Grand Slam. He also tied Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
This was Roger's unbelievable 15th finals appearance out of the past 16 Grand Slams and fourth straight finals at Roland Garros. The past three years, however, he had fallen one heartbreaking match short of claiming the title.
2008 was, by Roger's lofty standards, one of his worst years on tour. He lost in the Australian Open semis to Djokovic at the start of the year. He then lost in the finals at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to a certain Rafael Nadal and then to add insult to injury, Nadal took over from Roger as the World Number 1.
Never mind that Roger had bout of mononucleosis at the start of the year that hampered him during the Australian Open and through his preparations for the rest of the year.
Never mind that he reached the finals at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open and ended up winning his fifth straight title at Flushing Meadows.
For someone who had made it a habit to win at least two and more often three Grand Slam titles every year, 2008 was termed as a disaster.
2009 started out in a similar way with Roger reaching the finals at the Australian Open but once again losing to Nadal in another gut wrenching 5 setter.
Everybody will remember his forlorn face and his tears of anguish as Rafa had once again come in between Roger and his march towards tennis immortality.
That loss fueled Federer's critics more than ever. People started questioning the great Champion's mental state and whether he would ever get Sampras' record of 14 titles.
A string of losses to players like Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka was further proof to those critical of him that Federer was on the decline.
With Murray and Djokovic closing in on his rankings it seemed a matter of time before Roger slipped out of the top two and into oblivion.
Then came Madrid. Roger reached the finals and his reward for that was another match-up with Nadal, a man who had beaten Roger five straight times.
Roger played that match with more confidence than we have seen in a long time. He changed his tactics and it seemed that he actually had Rafa's number for a change.
He ended up winning the title by defeating the king of clay in straight sets and won his first title of the year.
A win over Rafa, on clay and in Rafa's home country, no doubt must have done wonders for Roger's confidence. Still most people doubted it would have any bearing on the outcome at Roland Garros.
For one, conditions in Madrid were very different from those in Paris. For another, Nadal had an extended clay court season and was clearly not his usual energetic self.
This was apparent through the first week of Roland Garros, as Rafa struggled a bit in the early rounds. Come the first Sunday of the tournament and Robin Soderling pulled off the biggest upset tennis has seen in a while.
He beat the four time champion in four sets and in doing so, he handed Roger Federer a brilliant opportunity to win the one slam that had been haunting him thus far.
A day before, the second tournament favourite, Novak Djokovic also lost to a relatively unknown German and suddenly, Roger Federer for the first time became tournament favourite at the French Open.
He was constantly made aware of his new-found status as favourite and the unique opportunity before him by his many fans, well wishers and the media. 'Will he or Wont he?' seemed to be the talk of tennis going into the second week of the Slam.
Destiny seemed to be beckoning Roger. The win at Roland Garros would not only make him one of the elite few to have a Career Grand Slam, but it would also tie him with Sampras at 14 Grand Slam wins.
His path to the finals was not easy. Roger had to face some tough matches and he had to pull himself out of some tense situations en route.
The pressure he faced in the second week was probably unlike that he has ever faced before. Everybody was watching, waiting, and almost willing him to win.
Against Tommy Haas, he came within five points of defeat before raising his game that extra notch and coming through in five sets. In his semi final, he came back from two sets to one down to reach his fourth successive final.
His strength and determination to win in this last week have been spectacular. His rigourous training and the long hours he had put in on the practice courts seemed to be paying off.
He was physically in very good shape and was able to make subtle adjustments to his game when needed. He seemed a far cry from the fragile Federer we had seen before.
He admitted he was tremendously nervous in the last couple of rounds and the shock exits of Rafa, Novak, and Murray were constantly playing on his mind. Still he came through by hanging tough and commanding himself to play brilliantly when he needed to.
In the final, Roger Federer demonstrated why he is such a great champion. Despite the immense pressure and the mammoth task ahead of him, Roger Federer did not blink.
It was almost like he was determined not to land as the runner-up for a fourth consecutive time in Paris, this time he was going to win it!
Playing against the man who had beaten his arch rival Nadal in the fourth round, Roger Federer sounded an early warning by breaking Soderling's serve in the first game.
Taking advantage of a clearly out of sorts opponent, Federer ran away with the first set in under 25 minutes.
The second set saw both players hold serve and take it to a tie break. Roger demonstrated his master class in the tie breaker by serving impeccably and playing the kind of shots that made even Soderling's coach, Magnus Norman, just shake his head in disbelief. He allowed his opponent just one point as he ran away with the tie break and the second set.
In the third set, Roger got an early break in the first game and from then on it was probably a matter of time. Roger was almost there. Never before had he been so close to the finish line and he was not letting it get away now.
He did face a few nervous moments and Soderling got a couple of break chances but Roger navigated his way out with some inspired serving and beautiful hitting.
There was a steady drizzle falling throughout the match but it nothing to slow down the great man on his march towards history.
In the end, Roger closed out the match at 6-4 in the third set with Soderling's return sailing into the net. The new champion fell to his knees, onto the clay that had deprived him on his previous attempts. Roger Federer had finally won Roland Garros!
It was fitting that Roger received the trophy from Andre Agassi, the last man to complete a career haul of all four Grand Slams. He did it 10 years ago, on his 11th appearance. Incidentally, this was also Roger's 11th appearance at Roland Garros.
The presentation ceremony saw an emotional yet jubilant Federer accept the Coupe de Mousquetaires, as just the sixth man to have completed a Career Grand Slam.
The enormity of what he had achieved and the emotion of the past months clearly got the better of the Master during the presentation.
As the Swiss anthem played over Roland Garros, Roger Federer was moved to tears. Only this time, it was tears of sheer joy!
Roger Federer has achieved a number of records over his remarkable career. The latest of which no doubt cement his name as one of the greatest players of the sport.
He has equaled Sampras' record haul of 14 titles and it will only be a matter of time before he goes and breaks that record.
And by claiming the French Open he has achieved what even the great Sampras failed to achieve during his reign.
The great Roger Federer has silenced his critics in the best way possible, by letting his magical tennis do the talking!
Whatever else he may go on to achieve, no one can argue that the Swiss Master is one of the most talented, popular, and outstanding Champions that tennis has seen.
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