For Swiss Roger Federer, last Sunday’s French Open’s final matchup against the No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling was a dream after falling to Rafael Nadal for four consecutive times.
Then came the day’s biggest surprise. The match was between points in the second set when a spectator waving a flag climbed through the photographer’s pit and onto Federer’s side of the court.
Federer backed away toward the backstop, but the fan caught up with him and tried to put a hat on Federer’s head. Security personnel seemed slow to react before chasing the man to the other side of the court where he was tackled and carried out.
Undeterred by an on-court intruder, Federer defeated surprise finalist Soderling 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 on Sunday to complete a career Grand Slam and win his 14th major title, matching Sampras’ record.
“It’s maybe my greatest victory, or certainly the one that removes the most pressure off my shoulders,” Federer said.
“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 Roland Garros.” On his fourth try at the finals on the Parisian clays, Federer became the sixth man to win all four Grand Slam championships.
“Now the question is: Am I the greatest of all time?” Federer said. “We don’t know, but I definitely have many things going for me because I’ve finally won all four Grand Slams, and I’m particularly happy reaching Pete’s 14.”
Tennis legend Pete Sampras who has won 14 Grand Slams: he was 31 years old when he won his last Grand Slam at the 2002 U.S Open against Andre Agassi. Sampras, who has never won the French Open said Federer deserves to be at the top of the all-time list.
“I’m obviously happy for Roger,” Sampras told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Los Angeles, where he lives. “Now that he has won in Paris, I think it just more solidifies his place in history as the greatest player that played the game, in my opinion.”
When the Swiss hit a service winner on championship point, he fell on his knees to the clay that had vexed him for so long, screamed and briefly buried his face in his hands. He was teary by the time he met Soderling at the net, and fans gave Federer a standing ovation as he raised his arms in triumph.
Federer owed Soderling a thank-you for easing his path by upsetting four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.
“I kind of was relieved, because he was going to be the hardest one to beat,” Federer said.
Nadal defeated Federer at Roland Garros the past four years, including three consecutive times in the final.
“I’ve had a tough draw,” Federer said.
While Federer benefited from Nadal’s shocking departure, the journey to the title wasn’t easy. Federer rallied from a two-set deficit in the fourth round to beat Tommy Hass and survived another five-setter against Juan Martin del Porto in the semifinals.
Federer won his 14th Grand Slam championship at age 27. Federer will try for No. 15 beginning in two weeks at Wimbledon, which he has won five times.
A predictable but well-liked ending to a drama packed two weeks at the 2009 French Open. The king of tennis will head to Wimbledon feeling more relaxed than ever. Arch rival, Rafael Nadal who is nursing a knee injury must be feeling the heat now.