PARIS — Oh, how Roger Federer savoured every moment with his first French Open trophy.
He raised it overhead. He cradled it in the crook of his elbow. He closed his eyes and kissed it. He examined the names of other champions etched on its base. Even in a downpour on Court Philippe Chatrier, as heavy, grey clouds blocked any shred of sunlight Sunday, that silver trophy sure seemed to glisten.
Finally, the lone major championship that had eluded Federer was his. With his latest masterful performance, Federer tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major singles titles and became the sixth man to complete a career Grand Slam.
History was at stake, and Federer was at his best, completely outplaying No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden en route to a 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory in a French Open final that lacked suspense but not significance.
“Maybe my greatest victory — or certainly the one that takes the most pressure off my shoulders,” Federer said in French, moments after dropping to his knees, caking them with clay, as his 127 miles per hour service winner ended the match. “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 at Roland Garros.”
Federer came heartbreakingly close in the past, losing the previous three French Open finals, so there certainly was something poetic about his tying Sampras’ Grand Slam mark at this particular tournament, on this particular court.
“Now that he’s won in Paris, I think it just more solidifies his place in history as the greatest player that played the game,” Sampras told The Associated Press.
“If there’s anyone that deserves it, it’s Roger,” Sampras said.
“He’s come so close — lost to one guy who’s going to go down as probably the greatest clay-courter of all time.”
That would be Rafael Nadal, the man who beat Federer at Roland Garros in the 2006-08 finals and the 2005 semifinals, too. But Nadal’s 31-match French Open winning streak ended this year with a fourth-round loss to the hard-hitting Soderling.
“I knew the day Rafa won’t be in the finals, I will be there, and I will win. I always knew that, and I believed in it. That’s exactly what happened,” the second-seeded Federer said. “It’s funny. I didn’t hope for it. But I believed in it.”
Only 7-13 against Nadal, Federer entered Sunday 9-0 against Soderling and, other than the threat of postponement because of rain, there was never any doubt that would become 10-0 by day’s end.
That’s because Federer showed off the athleticism and artistry that carried him to five championships at Wimbledon, the last five at the U.S. Open and three at the Australian Open. Federer hit more aces than Soderling, 16-2. He broke Soderling four times. He won 40 of the first 47 points on his serve. He won five points with delicate drop shots.
Federer was outstanding at the start, taking a 4-0 lead, and close to perfect in the tiebreaker. That was Soderling’s chance to get into the match, but Federer wouldn’t allow it: The Swiss star served four points — and all four were aces, ranging from 118 m.p.h. to 132 m.p.h.
Federer called it “one of the greatest tiebreakers in my career.”
Soderling never really stood a chance, not against Federer, not on this day, not on this stage.
“You really gave me a lesson in how to play tennis,” Soderling told Federer.
This was Federer’s 19th Grand Slam final, equalling Ivan Lendl’s record, and Soderling’s first. Soderling not only shocked Nadal — and the entire tennis world — but also beat No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez and No. 14 David Ferrer.