18/10/11 - 18:03
Robin Söderling and Paris do like each other. After two lost finals at Roland-Garros, against Roger Federer in 2009, and then against Rafael Nadal in 2010, the Swede finally reaches the finish line, and lifts the trophy in the “City of Lights”.
By winning his very first Masters 1000 here at the BNP Paribas Masters, Söderling cuts the dream short for Gaël Monfils and his hopes for a win at Bercy, the latter being runner-up for the second consecutive year in Paris. Söderling, speaking from experience, addresses his opponent: “I know how hard it is to lose two finals in a row in a tournament, I’ve been there!”, making reference of course to his lost finals at Roland-Garros.
In the final, Söderling is solid as a rock. The first set is just a formality, won in twenty-six minutes (6-1). The second is much tighter however, with Monfils finally holding on, until the tiebreak that is. At that point, the Swede takes a quick lead 4-1, much to the dismay of the fans at the POPB, who are dreaming of nothing but a fourth French champion in Paris, after Forget in 1991, Grosjean in 2001 and Tsonga in 2008.
An ace on the T and a wide serve give him five championship points. After a final cross-court forehand volley, the Tibro native and future world number 4 falls to the floor in ecstasy, winning the sixth tournament of his career.
Söderling, who was still coached by Magnus Norman at the time, has every reason to savor his trophy, as once again, it almost slipped through his fingers just before the final. In the semis, another Frenchman, Michaël Llodra, was on the verge of winning, just two points away from the win in the second set when leading 7-6 5-4, and who then let another three match points get by him at 6-5 in the third.
By no means did Söderling steal this title, as the matches leading up to his victory were all difficult to pull off. Gilles Simon (then n°43 in the ATP rankings), Stanislas Wawrinka (n°22), Andy Roddick (n°8), Michaël Llodra (n°34) and Gaël Monfils in the final (n°14), a total of three French players, all succumb to the law of the Swede.
Another Frenchman was in the semifinals on that crazy Saturday, November 13th 2010 - Gaël Monfils against Roger Federer. It’s in fact the very first time since the 2002 event in Madrid that two Frenchmen are in the semis of a Masters 1000.
In the first semifinal, “Mika” just misses the win, whereas “La Monf’” is so close to defeat in the second. Federer, who is participating in his first semifinal in Paris, has been playing perfect tennis since the start of the tournament. The surface, which is hardly faster than the year before, is perfect for his game. In the third set, Federer has a total of five match points. His first final at the BNP Paribas Masters is at arm’s reach. But Monfils the warrior refuses to give in. “Sliderman” gets through those match points, one at a time. And Bercy is on fire. Taking advantage at the first opportunity he has, he takes the win on the first match point in his favor.
In six attempts, this is the first time that Roger Rasheed’s protégé defeats the Swiss. “I am happy, there is no doubt about it, confides Gaël upon leaving the court. I have tremendous admiration for Roger, he is tennis legend. This win will stay with me forever. And what’s more, it’s in Paris. It’s bliss”. This “Super Saturday” will remain one of the most memorable, if not the most memorable, day in the history of the Parisian tournament.
With two Frenchmen in the semis, the first time this has occurred at Bercy, the BNPPM 2010 is no doubt a great year for French tennis despite the poor start, as there were only two left in the Round of 16, very far from the record held (five in 2009) at this stage of the competition. The withdrawals of Rafael Nadal, number 1 in the world at the time, and of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (the title-holder), seem very far. The Spaniard, suffering from tendinitis in his arm, did nonetheless show up in Paris to give a press conference at the beginning of the tournament, which shows just how important the last event of the season is before the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals…