PARIS (Reuters) - As Roger Federer watched the yellow ball spin into the other side of the net, he sank to his knees, covered his face and knew that the French Open trophy was his at last.
It was meant to be Federer’s day and not even a court intruder, gusting winds or rain showers could stop the Swiss from sweeping past Sweden’s Robin Soderling 6-1 7-6 6-4 to achieve sporting greatness.
After burying the 23rd seed in one hour 55 minutes, Federer held his arms aloft and looked up to the sky as he became only the sixth man to complete a career grand slam. The triumph also gave him a record-equaling 14th major crown.
With so much at stake, it was little wonder that Federer started weeping the moment Soderling paddled that final forehand into the net, ending one of the most nerve-jangling weeks in the 27-year-old’s career.
The contest was not a classic but the tension was still palpable as 15,000 soggy fans cheered Federer’s winners, groaned at his mistakes and applauded his spectacular shots. When it was finally all over, they exploded into a roar of deafening cheers to salute their new claycourt king.
Fittingly, Andre Agassi, the last man to achieve the career grand slam, was on hand to welcome the newest member of the select club and gave Federer a hug before handing over the trophy.
“It is a magical moment,” a drenched Federer told the crowd after holding up the Musketeers’ Cup high above his head before planting a kiss on to its gleaming surface.
“It might be the greatest victory of my career. It takes away so much pressure. Now, I can play in peace for the rest of my career. Nobody will never tell me again that I have not won Roland Garros,” added Federer, who won the title at his 11th attempt.
Never have truer words been spoken as not winning the claycourt major had been a dark cloud on Federer’s otherwise impeccable horizon.
While the oodles of talent that runs through Federer’s veins helped him to capture 13 grand slam titles at Wimbledon, Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park, it was never enough in the heartland of claycourt tennis.
If there was ever a place he needed divine intervention, it was in Paris and Soderling turned out to be the Swiss’s lucky charm when he got rid of Federer’s tormentor, four-times champion Rafael Nadal, in the fourth round.
The Swede, who lists Gladiator as his favorite film, had slayed four seeds to reach his first grand slam final but he stuck to the script and played only a bit part, allowing Federer to seal his standing as the greatest racket-swinger of all time.
All the ifs and buts that had hung over his career through three final losses to Nadal at Roland Garros disappeared like puffs of baseline dust.
In fact the major drama provided on Sunday was by an interloper who jumped on to the court from the stands as Soderling was serving at 2-1 down in the second set.
Wearing a red Swiss shirt and carrying a red and blue flag, he made a beeline for Federer and tried to put a hat on his head.
The startled world number two backed away and the man ran around court and jumped over the net before he was rugby tackled by burly security guards.
The intruder was on court for only 18 seconds but he had done enough to rattle Federer, who promptly lost three points in a row.
Luckily they were not on his serve and the rhythmic chants of “Ro-ger!, Ro-ger!, Ro-ger!” spurred him to resume normal service.
Soderling kept in touch with Federer in the second set but in the tiebreak, he did not get a look in.
On his four service points, Federer fired a 206 kph ace, a 207 kph ace, a 213 kph ace and finished it off in style with a 191 kph ace. Soderling blinked and the tiebreak was over 7-1.
As Federer took his place to serve for the match, a female voice from the crowd shrilled “Come on Roger! Grab your chance!”
That only helped to unnerve Federer as from 30-15, he misfired a backhand long. The crowd groaned and he followed up with an even wilder forehand to go break point down.
It seemed that even Soderling was taken aback as he lost his chance by firing the ball sky high.
Two points later, Federer sunk to his knees Borg-style and the tears started to flow.
Editing by Ed Osmond