Super Söderling digs deep to reach Paris final

Swedish tennis star Robin Söderling scored a dramatic five set victory over Fernando Gonzalez on Friday to advance to the final of the French Open.

Super Söderling digs deep to reach Paris final

The Swedish 23rd seed, who knocked out four-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last 16, will now face sentimental favourite Roger Federer, bidding to win a record-setting 14th Grand Slam title, or improving Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro on Sunday for the trophy.

With compatriot and six-time winner Björn Borg in support, the 24-year-old clinched a famous victory, coming back from 1-4 down in the final set, to reach his first Grand Slam final.

Söderling, who had never got beyond the third round in any of his 21 previous majors, is the first Swede to reach the final since coach Magnus Norman in 2000 while Mats Wilander was the country’s last champion in 1988.

“It’s unbelievable. I played well in the first two sets. Then he started to play incredibly well,” said the Swede.

“I was down a break in the final set but I said to myself that I have nothing to lose. I started to return great and everything changed.

“I still have far to go with the most difficult match, maybe against Federer, to come on Sunday.”

Söderling stormed to a 5-2 lead before a confident service hold allowed him to claim the opening set, comfortably winning the early battle of the big forehands, firing 10 winners to the Chilean’s two.

Gonazalez had to save three break points in the ninth game of the second set before Söderling saved a set point in the 10th with his eighth ace of the contest.

The 28-year-old Chilean was under siege. He saved another three break points in the 11th game, before a wild forehand allowed his opponent to grab the initiative for a 6-5 lead.

That became a two-sets advantage when Gonzalez, having slumped to the red dirt fruitlessly chasing a Söderling drive, could only push a forehand wide.

But the big-hearted Gonzalez refused to surrender.

With French basketball hero Tony Parker and his Hollywood actress wife Eva Longoria slipping into the VIP box, Gonzalez slashed the deficit, taking the third set when a Söderling forehand lost its sense of direction.

The 24-year-old Swede’s big game suffered a sudden, dramatic power cut as the full-blooded forehand, which had destroyed Nadal, deserted him.

Gonzalez overcame a lengthy and comical dispute with chair umpire Emmanual Joseph to level the semi-final, taking the fourth set when Söderling, who had needed treatment to a right foot injury, pushed a weak forehand wide.

The Chilean was quickly 2-0 ahead in the decider, but Söderling retrieved the break to trail 3-4 and then incredibly broke again to lead 5-4.

He claimed victory with one final, power-packed deep forehand which left Gonzalez floundering and the Swede on his knees in disbelief at his achievement.

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.