Monday, June 08, 2009

He had it coming

Finally, #14.

And finally, Roger Federer conquers Roland Garros, winning his first ever French Open title, completing a career
Grand Slam, and tying Pete Sampras' record of most number of Grand Slam events won. Some say this now makes him the greatest tennis player of all time (even Sampras himself says so). Some say this was written in the stars, a destiny deserved by an "extraordinarily talented" player, as Andre Agassi put it. I say this is the storybook ending everyone wanted for a man who has brought so much skill, style, and class to the sport, and I couldn't be happier for the handsome hero.

When Roge lost to Nadal at the Australian Open earlier this year and had an emotional breakdown during the awarding ceremony, I truly did doubt that even the Swiss Maestro could overcome age, injury, self-doubt, and a passel of younger, bigger, faster rivals to reach #14. Even as I watched Federer in his first few matches at the French Open a couple of weeks ago, I harbored no false hopes of him reaching the final, much more winning the championship. The Mighty Fed struggled against supposedly lesser opponents, nearly sending me into cardiac arres
t more than once, especially during his doozy of a 4th round match versus unseeded relic Tommy Haas. But Roge somehow managed to win every time, advancing toward the final like some charmed grizzled warrior (if you can actually describe someone that gorgeous as "grizzled"). And the Fates assisted him along the way by tripping up the players who posed the most threat to him: Djokovic. Murray. And the King of Clay himself, Rafa Nadal.

When Nadal fell to Robin Soderling, as much as it disappointed me, I did suddenly feel a glimmer of hope for my darling Roge's chances. It really did seem as if the path was being cleared for Federer to win the French Open this
year. And win it he did, appropriately enough, by defeating the same guy who took out the reigning champion. It was as if Soderling had already done Roger a favor, and then helped him further by not bringing his cold-and-calculated-killer instincts to Court Philippe Chartier. Federer just schooled Soderling, even by the Swede's own admission, and beat him in straight sets in classic Federer fashion: simple, graceful, composed, and exquisitely refined. Not even the disruption caused by a crazy fan who rushed the court in the middle of a game and came dangerously close to Roger did much damage. Roge was on a roll, the crowd was chanting his name, and the heavens ordained that he get his due.

When championship point had been won and Federer fell to his knees on the red clay, the clay he had finally mastered, his face crumpling with emotion just as I had seen it do when he won Wimbledon in 2007, I felt my throat constrict with emotion too. I had been so tense throughout the entire match, terrified down to the last game that Robin the Giant Slayer might suddenly regain the form he had used to eliminate Nadal and Davydenko. In light of how he had sobbed like a baby after coming in the runner-up in Melbourne, I had the sinking feeling that Roger might never psychologically recover from a 4th loss at Roland Garros, not to mention another missed opportunity to notch Grand Slam #14. So imagine my relief and elation when his French Open fairy tale got its happy ending.

As tears rolled down Roger's face while Switzerland's national anthem played, my own eyes welled up with joy for the athlete I most admire and adore. I realize I may sound like such a pathetic fangirl, but hey, it's not everyday
you get to witness one of your heroes achieve something amazing, something historical, something legendary. And what happened today in Paris was just plain peRFection.


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