“Patience is bitter, but it’s fruit is sweet.” Those words were first uttered by an 18th century philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was born in Switzerland but later moved to Paris, France.
Another great man, in this 21st century, also born in Switzerland but now in Paris, France, will try to remember those words today. Patience is bitter…. but it’s fruit is sweet. For, true enough, hasn’t Roger Federer been most patient? At the French Open? On clay? Learning the game of tennis at the age of eight, he grew up playing on Basel’s clay courts. Then, starting in 1999, he joined his first-ever Grand Slam event. On clay. He lost that year at the French Open. And the year after. And each year ever since up until 2008.
Today, June 7, 2009, the French-speaking Swiss is back. Today, as painstaking as it was losing the past 10 years, he’ll attempt to grab the sweetest fruit of all: the Roland Garros trophy.
Can Roger do it? Will he… finally? Minus Rafael Nadal on that same Court Philippe Chatrier today, the obvious answer is…. Of course! Consider that, for the past four years (including the last three finals), he has lost to the same left-hander from Mallorca. Not today. No pump-fisting, buttocks-scratching, “Vamos”-screaming muscleman in sight today. Thank Robin Soderling.
Roger will win today. Imagine the numbers he’s accumulated? 14 of the last 15 Grand Slam finals. 20 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. That’s extraordinary. In all, he’s won 3 Australian Open crowns, 5 Wimbledon plates and 5 US Open trophies. The only accolade missing in his portfolio is the one he’ll lift above his shoulders today.
(Photo from www.rolandgarros.com)
Why am I sure that Roger will beat Robin? On paper, it’s a no-contest: Roger has beaten Robin in nine out of the nine times they’ve played. Out of 20 sets, Robin lost 19. But more than the figures, it’s the experience. Did you watch the NBA Finals Game 1 two mornings ago? For as good as the Orlando Magic was, they’re neophytes in the Finals compared to the veteran LA Lakers. Look what happened: It was a 25-point embarrassment.
The finals, of any major sporting event, is unlike any other. The pressure is intolerable. Against Nadal, the Swede had nothing to lose. He hammered his forehand. Nailed that down-the-line backhand. Cemented his name and performed a construction demolition job on Nadal. Not today. Not in the final. Not against the most seasoned RF.
Yet, the critics ask, this won’t be the sweetest of victories for Roger since he’s not beating Nadal and neither Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray are in the finals, right? Yes and No. Given his competitive spirit, I’m sure Roger would have loved to take revenge against Rafa. It would be like Pete Sampras’ win in 2002 at the US Open final against Andre Agassi. So, yes, a Rafa victory would have been more irresistible. But, no, the French Open title is the French Open trophy—it’s major league.
What’s intriguing in Roger’s quest this 2009 is because he hasn’t played glorious and superlative tennis the past two weeks. In fact, he’s been close to losing. Down two sets to love against Tommy Haas, down 5-1 in the third set (at one set apiece) to Jose Acasuso, down twice against Juan Martin del Potro two days ago… he makes the storybook even more engrossing and riveting.
Yet he’ll win today. The conclusion? It’s Destiny. It’s Destiny that Rafa, who humiliated him 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 last year, lost early so they won’t have to meet. It’s Destiny that he got married, is expecting a child in a few months’, was scrutinized by the press (including myself)—only to emerge victorious. It’s Destiny that, granted he wins later today, it will his 14th Grand Slam title, equaling Pete Sampras, a man who’s never won the French Open.
Don’t miss the Federer Finale: SkyCable Balls Channel 33 at 9 p.m., RP time.