Wow! Two of the most emotionally grueling and physically demanding comebacks in French Open Tennis history played out to overflow crowds in the 2009 semifinals at Roland Garros. The charged gallery put its tennis mood on early and wore it passionately through two 3 hour 30 minute matches.
First, Sweden’s Nadal conqueror, Robin Soderling, bested Chile’s Fernando Gonzales in a contentious 5 set nail-biter, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Soderling trailed 1-4 in the fifth set before mounting a stirring comeback and running the table on the game drop-shotter.
When the match began, it seemed that the 12th seeded Gonzalez would not be able to answer the hard serving, power driving 23rd seed. Trailing two sets to none, the savvy Chilean dipped deep into his bag of drop shots and gamesmanship to turn the tide and gain the momentum after four sets.
Soderling’s successful run in Paris has been based upon his ability to serve and volley with abandon. The same strategy that kept Rafa Nadal 10 feet behind the baseline looked like a sure winner after two sets. Gonzalez showed his teeth in the second set when at 4-4 and love-40, he rattled off three winners en route to a key hold to go up 5-4. The Chilean court master then had a set point before succumbing.
Although broken at 5-5, the Chilean had learned something as he relentlessly hit the ball low to Soderling’s backhand. Throughout the match, Gonzalez kept working the Swede’s backhand.
The passionate Chilean had several confrontations with the chair umpire and linespersons. Most notable was a fourth set dispute over a line call at 4-4. Gonzalez marked his disgust by erasing the ball mark with his backside and then held serve and broke at 6-5 to grab the set.
After Gonzalez won sets three and four, he seemed to have the match under control. When he broke in the fourth game of the final set and then held to go up 4-1, the match outcome seemed a mere formality. But, Soderling held to close to 2-4 and then broke to get the match back on serve.
Gonzales continued to question line calls as the crowd swung towards Soderling. The Swede did what he does best and bullied his way past the Chilean, finally sealing the match with a ferocious backhand drive down the line.
The win marks the first time a Swede has reached the finals since his coach, Magnus Norman, accomplished the feat in 2000. Soderling has now won nine consecutive matches on clay and looks to become the first Swede since Mats Wilander to win at Roland Garros.
No stranger to championship caliber competition, Switzerland’s Roger Federer rode a wave of French support to turn the tide on Argentina’s Juan Martin del Porto and pull out a tight 3-6, 7-6 (2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 quality semifinal win. The crowd loudly proclaimed Rogere! Rogere! with each winning shot.
A win by Federer will make him just the sixth man in tennis history to have won all four major titles and will tie him with Pete Sampras for the most Grand Slam titles at 14. With the semifinal win, Federer has now tied Ivan Lendl for the all-time Grand Slam record for appearances in the finals at 19.
Remarkably, this semifinal appearance marked Federer’s 20th consecutive semifinal and was his 200th Grand Slam match.
The revered Swiss star needed every bit of his composure and Grand Slam experience to withstand another steady barrage by another up and coming star. The 20-year old 6 foot 7 inch 5th seed got off the starting blocks quickly as he blasted first serve after first serve at Federer and followed up with piercing forehands.
When Del Porto was on, he was dominating. He eased through sets one and three, breaking Federer twice in the third set and seemed headed to the finals.
But, just when Federer looks most vulnerable, he finds a way to turn the momentum. He broke Del Porto early in the fourth set and Juan martin seemed to let down his intensity. In earlier sets, his serving velocity exceeded 130 mph.
With Nadal’s loss to finalist Robin Soderling, Federer has worn the pressure of tournament and fan favorite, a role usually reserved for four-time French Champion Rafa. Despite his stellar play, Roger had lost more sets than any other tournament semifinalist.
Federer’s comebacks are becoming regular. He seems to show early match jitters, then steadies the play and finally begins to dominate. This was the case against both Tommy Haas and Juan Martin. Del Porto was unable to sustain his go for broke style. When he needed big shots in the final set, Federer had the answers. Federer’s win was cause for celebration in Paris where the Swiss star appears to have been adopted.