Tomorrow afternoon, Roger Federer will face Robin Soderling in the French Open Final.
For once, the guy that beat him in the 3 previous finals (and the semi-final before that), Rafael Nadal, won’t be there (and he’s also dropped out of Queens and may now miss Wimbledon!).
But does this mean Roger will finally get his hands on that last remaining piece of silverware missing from his trophy cabinet and complete the career Grand Slam? Does it mean he will finally tie Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles and be regarded as the undisputed greatest player of all time?
Not so fast.
I for one would love to see Roger hoist that trophy tomorrow. And judging from the way the Parisian crowd has treated him the last couple of weeks, so would the French public. Roger’s run to the French Open Final this year seems like a fairytale. Almost too perfect, too dramatic, too good to be true. Too much like destiny.
Think about it. He had lost the 3 previous French Open finals against Nadal, not to mention last year’s Wimbledon Final and this year’s Australian Open Final. He was a player in decline, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ready to pounce on his number 2 ranking and getting the best of him in their last few encounters. Even though he beat a weary Nadal in the Rome Masters leading up to the French Open, he was considered an outside chance at best by most, and the majority of experts and commentators had already written him off.
He then goes about winning the first round in straight sets, but struggles in the second, winning in 4 but 2 of the sets were tiebreakers. In the third round, he loses the first set but then rallies to win the next 3. He’s getting through but hardly in dominating fashion. Meanwhile, Djokovic, a guy who almost beat Nadal in Rome, is shockingly defeated.
And in the fourth round, the whole world turned upside-down. Nadal bows out, changing the landscape for everyone, especially Roger. If he’s ever going to win, it’s going to be now, people said. And what happens next? He falls down 2 sets to love against Tommy Haas, a guy he rarely ever has trouble with. Just when it looked like Federer was about to crumble under the weight of new expectations, he roars back to win the match from the brink of elimination.
Next, in the quarterfinals, his next biggest threat, Andy Murray, is ousted. Federer plays Gael Monfils, a guy who had been playing great tennis (and I thought would beat the seemingly unstable Roger). The French crowd, instead of supporting local player Monfils, were actually on Federer’s side, rallying him to a straight sets victory. Things were starting to get a little eerie.
But then it got downright scary. I was convinced that Juan Martin Del Potro, the fifth seed and a guy who had never beaten Federer, would finally get him this time. Things were just too good to be true. Roger falls down 2 sets to 1, then once again, against all odds, like a Hollywood script (and an unrealistic one at that), storms back to claim the final 2 sets. On the other side of the draw, it was only fitting that the guy who dethroned Nadal, Mr Soderling, would come through against Fernando Gonzalez, also in 5 riveting sets.
If you had told anyone that this would happen before the tournament began – that Federer would be facing some relative unknown who beat Nadal, in the final, after overcoming all odds including 2 come-from-behind 5-setters – they would have said you were crazy. You couldn’t have dreamed of such a perfectly dramatic scenario even if you tried. And yet, tomorrow afternoon, fantasy becomes reality.
Can Roger Federer fulfil what seems frighteningly like destiny? Will he be coming this far, only to crash back down to earth again? Normally, I would say all the warning signs are there. The lead-up to the final was just too perfect, too scripted, too unbelievable. Usually when things are like this it never turns out the way we want it to. But after doubting Roger in the previous 2 rounds, I’m starting to believe in destiny too.