The Finals

Jun 7, 2009

Yesterday I was serving ice-cream in the drizzling rain at a day-event, listening to the women’s final on the radio. Even the crackly radio caught the sense of delight on the Phillipe Chatrier court, where Svetlana Kuznetsova surpassed the world No. 1Dinara Safina to take her second grand slam 6-4 6-2. She won in one hour fourteen minutes. Safina’s game was littered with double faults, smashing her racquet to the ground in a constant state of frustration that she just couldn’t shake. Kuznetsova took her points and controlled the game in her favour; scrappy at times but immense in others. Congratulations to Kuznetsova and commiserations to Safina, it’ll be exciting to see them back at Wimbledon later this summer.

 

Today, I was listening to the Muse ‘Absolution’ album before I switched on the tennis, and the lyrics of Butterflies and Hurricanes caught my ear:  ‘Your number has been called/ Fights and battles have begun/ Revenge will surely come/ Your hard times are ahead/ Best, you’ve got to be the best…Don’t let yourself down, don’t let yourself go, your last chance has arrived’  

It’s an alternative rock, slightly overly-angsty version of what Roger Federer surely had to be thinking as woke this morning to play in the French Open final: if he didn’t take this chance he may never get another one at the elusive French Open title.

But Federer not only had himself and his nerves to contend with, but his opponent: Robin Soderling. And Soderling was not going to let Federer go easily. The stage was set for a fantastic final.

But three games in and it seemed all Soderling could do was cling onto the backs of Fed’s trainers with a white-knuckle grip and watch his game get ground into the clay. Federer broke him repeatedly, bringing the Swede to his knees so early in the match. A true ‘deer in the headlights’ moment.

Finally Soderling scraped a hold game and he looked relieved at the opportunity to get on the scoreboard at 1-4. Soderling scratches his head and sends a tight look down the baseline, where Federer prowls. Did I say deer caught the headlights? I meant deer being led into the lion’s cage at dinner time.

The game takes a bit of a turn for the worse and it’s not actually anything to do with the tennis; a spectator runs onto the court and heads straight for the world No. 2. I for one will admit to yelping in a desperate manner as he actually came into contact with Roger, and there’s a sudden moment of panic as the crowd is not quite sure whether to laugh or start throwing themselves in there to save the star themselves.

But I can assure everyone that despite getting a flag stuck down the back of his shirt, Federer was Ok. The daring spectator ran off before finally being flattened by security and getting his face smashed into the clay. Soderling gave a questioning thumbs up to his compatriot: you Ok? It seemed as though he was and Federer was quick to restart.

Soderling truly battled in the second set, and it came down to a nervous tie break. He worked Federer harder right up until the tie-break actually started, and then suddenly the Swiss was running away with it and took it 6-1.

The beginning of the third set was not ideal: Federer breaks Soderling in his first service game. From then on, the final set of championship match was all about one question: will Federer serve it out, or will he break Soderling?  It was quickly answered when Federer sent his return of service into the net. The crowd coordinated for a bit of Federer-chanting as he took his place to serve it out for the tournament, but Soderling raised himself to the occasion, taking it to deuce. Advantage Federer moments later. The crowd shushes itself angrily.

On the first Championship Point Federer got the first serve in – not spectacular, not dazzling – but it was in. Soderling whacked the forehand return and sent it wide.

Federer dropped to his knees, hands to his face. The crowd roared as one, his wife leapt up on her feet. The tricky French Open title was his.

When the trophies came, Soderling raised the runner-up prize with an immense smile. The crowd couldn’t help but smile back: Soderling was a delightful surprise in this tournament and he has made many friends in the tennis fan world.  

But the moment was Federer’s, and in French he was welcomed to take the trophy that had eluded him for so long. He raised his hand to the crowd as he always has done, thanking their support. And then he raised something much more important, the French Open. For the first time in the start of the game my crackling, grainy TV signal turned colour just as that silver trophy was past Roger’s ears and held aloft. What a sight to finally be able to see .

The national anthem of Switzerland played, and Andre Agassi stood close by to see Federer’s accomplishment level his own. Soderling thanked the crowd, and his opponent: “You gave me a lesson on how to play tennis today. And to me, you’re the greatest player in the history.”

Federer did the same, thanking his team, his parents, the crowds, Robin Soderling, and his wife.

And so the French Open is over. Characterised by the man who held the trophy of his final Grand Slam aloft, took the microphone, looked toward the crowd and finished with:

“Thank you everyone, see you next year”

 

-          SophieG

 

Written by: SophieG

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