PARIS -- Oh, how Roger Federer savored every moment with hisfirst French Open trophy.
He raised it overhead. He cradled it in the crook of his elbow.He closed his eyes and kissed it. He examined the names of otherchampions etched on its base. Even in a downpour on Court PhilippeChatrier, as heavy, gray clouds blocked any shred of sunlightSunday, that silver trophy sure seemed to glisten.
Finally, the lone major championship that had eluded Federer washis. With his latest masterful performance, Federer tied PeteSampras' record of 14 major singles titles and became the sixth manto complete a career Grand Slam.
History was at stake, and Federer was at his best, completelyoutplaying No. 23-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden en route to a6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 victory in a French Open final that lackedsuspense but not significance.
"Maybe my greatest victory - or certainly the one that takesthe most pressure off my shoulders," Federer said in French,moments after dropping to his knees, caking them with clay, as his127 mph service winner ended the match. "I think that now, anduntil the end of my career, I can really play with my mind at peaceand no longer hear that I've never won at Roland Garros."
Federer came heartbreakingly close in the past, losing theprevious three French Open finals, so there certainly was somethingpoetic about his tying Sampras' Grand Slam mark at this particulartournament, on this particular court.
"Now that he's won in Paris, I think it just more solidifieshis place in history as the greatest player that played the game,"Sampras told The Associated Press.
"If there's anyone that deserves it, it's Roger," Samprassaid. "He's come so close - lost to one guy who's going to go downas probably the greatest clay-courter of all time."
That would be Rafael Nadal, the man who beat Federer at RolandGarros in the 2006-08 finals and the 2005 semifinals, too. ButNadal's 31-match French Open winning streak ended this year with afourth-round loss to the hard-hitting Soderling.
"I knew the day Rafa won't be in the finals, I will be there,and I will win. I always knew that, and I believed in it. That'sexactly what happened," the second-seeded Federer said. "It'sfunny. I didn't hope for it. But I believed in it."
Only 7-13 against Nadal, Federer entered Sunday 9-0 againstSoderling and, other than the threat of postponement because ofrain, there was never any doubt that would become 10-0 by day'send.
That's because Federer showed off the athleticism and artistrythat carried him to five championships at Wimbledon, the last fiveat the U.S. Open and three at the Australian Open. Federer hit moreaces than Soderling, 16-2. He broke Soderling four times. He won 40of the first 47 points on his serve. He won five points withdelicate drop shots.
Federer was outstanding at the start, taking a 4-0 lead, andclose to perfect in the tiebreaker. That was Soderling's chance toget into the match, but Federer wouldn't allow it: The Swiss starserved four points - and all four were aces, ranging from 118 mphto 132 mph.
Federer called it "one of the greatest tiebreakers in mycareer."
Soderling never really stood a chance, not against Federer, noton this day, not on this stage.
"You really gave me a lesson in how to play tennis," Soderlingtold Federer.
This was Federer's 19th Grand Slam final, equaling Ivan Lendl'srecord, and Soderling's first. Soderling not only shocked Nadal -and the entire tennis world - but also beat No. 10 NikolayDavydenko, No. 12 Fernando Gonzalez and No. 14 David Ferrer.
"Every time I played Roger, after the match, I always said, 'Iplayed so bad today.' Now I learned that it's not that I playedbad," Soderling said. "He makes me play bad."
For only two moments was Federer the least bit shaken: As thelast few points were played - victory tantalizingly close - andduring a bizarre and worrisome episode when a man jumped over thephotographer's pit and ran on the court.
It happened after the first point at 2-1 in the second set, andthe intruder went right up to Federer and tried to put a red hat onhim. Federer brushed the man aside before security guards even gotclose enough to intervene. After hopping the net, the man wastackled and jailed for questioning.
"A touch scary," Federer said, lamenting he didn't ask for achance to gather himself. "It definitely felt uncomfortable oncehe came close to me. Looking back, it definitely threw me out of myrhythm a little bit."
Federer looked up at his pregnant wife, Mirka, and adjusted hisheadband, but soon was playing again. He lost that game at love,then quickly settled back into a groove.
Until, that is, the countdown to a championship had gone frommatches to sets to games to points.
Waiting in his changeover chair at 5-4 in the third set, Federershook his legs to stay loose and took a few sips of water, thenwiped his face with a towel. Stepping back on court to try to serveout the match, he was churning inside.
"You can imagine how difficult that game was," Federer said."It was almost unplayable for me."
He put a forehand into the net. He sailed a backhand long. Heshanked a swinging forehand volley 3 feet beyond the baseline togive Soderling a break point.
"My mind was always wondering, 'What if? What if I win thistournament?"' Federer said.
He gathered himself, of course, and won the next three points -the last three points of a tournament that meant so much toFederer.
For the next 40 minutes, he stayed on that court, relishing itinstead of dreading it. Federer accepted the trophy from AndreAgassi, whose 1999 French Open title made him the last man with afull set of Grand Slam trophies.
"I'm so happy for you, man," Agassi told Federer. Later,Agassi said: "Roger has earned his place, his rightful place, inthe game, and winning here was just something that would have beena bit of a crime if he never did."
Federer won three major titles each in 2004, 2006 and 2007, but2008 was a struggle by his - and only his - lofty standards. Slowedby mononucleosis, he lost in last year's Australian Open semifinals- the only one of the past 16 Grand Slam tournaments at whichFederer didn't reach the final. He absorbed the most lopsided GrandSlam loss of his career in the 2008 French Open final againstNadal, then lost to Nadal again in the Wimbledon final, 9-7 in thefifth set. He also lost the No. 1 ranking to Nadal, before winningthe U.S. Open in September.
Then came another five-set setback against Nadal in this year'sAustralian Open final, and Federer's anguish was there for theworld to see when he wept during the postmatch ceremony.
Four months later, on Sunday, Federer cried on court again. Whenthe Swiss national anthem played for the first time after a FrenchOpen men's final, tears rolled down Federer's cheeks, that silvertrophy nestled in his arms.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times