Commentary

French Open men's final analysis

Updated: June 7, 2009, 2:55 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: Roger Federer faced a greater obstacle than Robin Soderling in the French Open final. The weight of destiny -- Pete Sampras' all-time Grand Slam mark and the elusive French Open title -- could have been a hindrance.

Federer handled the collective pressure brilliantly, though. If you missed a moment, fear not: Ravi Ubha provided a blow-by-blow account through the duration of the championship match.

Third Set

A test of Soderling's resolve now. For the sake of the spectacle, let's hope the third set isn't a blowout.

The longest rally of the match, and it ends with Soderling putting away a difficult backhand overhead that just caught the line. Soderling is finding the range a little, but his shots still lack the penetration they had in earlier rounds. Again, Federer's defense and the heavier conditions are a factor, too.

A slight brain cramp for Soderling at 30-15. Only he knows why he came in behind nothing, and Federer easily dispatches a forehand pass. A double fault ensues and it's break -- and probably match -- point.

And there it is. Soderling misses once more with the forehand. Norman shakes his head. 1-0 Federer.

Soderling begins the next game by just missing a backhand pass down the line -- it clips the net.

"He didn't miss those shots for about a week,'' Wilander says.

A terrific rally culminates in a backhand cross court for Soderling. 30-15. They've been too few and far between. A 13th ace, then a backhand into the net, makes it 2-0. Federer, serving at 75 percent, can see the finish line.

Good to see Soderling still showing the right type of emotion. He curls a forehand down the line and delivers a fist pump. 40-15 and the rain is back.

Soderling holds with a service winner. 2-1 Federer.

If Soderling has any chance of coming back, he needs to do better than send a second-serve return into the net. The miss is magnified when Federer double faults for 15-15. Yes, an ace follows. 30-15.

One of the rare openings on the Federer serve, 30-all after a backhand mishit sails long. Ooooh! Federer, with an easy forehand put away at the net, misses well long. It was so long he almost hit Soderling, who was well beyond the baseline. A first break point, but Soderling is way too defensive, allowing Federer to run around and smack a forehand winner.

Norman looks completely annoyed.

That wasn't the kind of rally messieurs Nadal, Gonzalez and company witnessed when they faced Soderling. Federer eventually holds and pumps his fist. 3-1 Federer.

The GOAT debate comes up in broadcast.

"Definitely with Rod Laver and Pete Sampras he'd be right up there,'' Wilander, looking ahead to a Federer win, says.

A big second serve from Soderling at 40-15 keeps it close. 3-2 Federer.

A rarity, as a Soderling forehand sends Federer off court and produces an error. On the next point, Soderling unleashes a backhand down the line off a return -- he's done that throughout the fortnight -- but Federer scrambles to send a forehand into the open court. Three big first serves end that scare, 4-2 now.

More and more fans begin to chant, "Roger, Roger, Roger.''

Soderling runs around to hit a forehand but without oomph, Federer reads it well and with the whole court open, levels a forehand. 0-15. Soderling, persisting with his pump fists, battles to get to 40-15 and inches to 4-3 with a service winner. Two more holds needed for Federer.

Winning the first point on serve is big for Federer, and Soderling obliges by sending a forehand wide down the line.

"It's fatigue,'' Wilander says.

Federer deposits a forehand into the corner, and lets out a big exhale. 30-0. Hold the phone. Now 30-all. Federer mishits a forehand, which goes way wide.

"The biggest point of the match here,'' Wilander says.

Federer benefits from a weak backhand return off a second serve, and Federer goes for it down the line, successful with a curled forehand. A great kick serve and it's now one game away. 5-3 Federer.

"I have a feeling this is going to be difficult for Federer to finish,'' Wilander says.

That being said, Soderling wants to force Federer to serve it out. Huge hitting from Soderling on the baseline and it's 30-0. Too bad he didn't show more of that in the first set-and-a-half.

A Federer backhand goes long, and make that 40-15.

What a pickup by Federer! His reflex backhand flick counters a deep backhand form Soderling, who manufactures an unforced error. 40-30.

Well, Federer will have to serve it out, thanks to a forehand return into the net. 5-4 Federer.

Here we go.

First point: Oh, boy. So close to a double fault for Fed. But he benefits from a good second serve, and Soderling hits the backhand wide. From his perspective, gotta make Federer play. 15-0.

15-all, as Federer pulls up on a Soderling return, netting a forehand. 30-15, as a great serve out wide prompts a long forehand.

Not quite, as Federer goes for it when out of position with a backhand down the line, but is wild. 30-all.

Oh my goodness. A great first serve, and a weak reply -- the ball is floating, and Federer hits a drive volley, but misses long. Break point!

Not again from Soderling. A routine rally, and a routine forehand from Soderling is mishit badly. Deuce. Mirka is praying!

Championship point! Federer pulls Soderling out wide and this time with an easy backhand volley, makes no mistake.

There is it!!! Soderling nets a forehand return. Federer sinks to his knees and is crying before he gets up. He walks on court, raises both arms, still in tears. He bends over, lifts one more arm, and walks back to his chair with a 14th major to tie him with Sampras.

Federer wins the championship: 6-1, 7-6, 6-4.

Before the trophy presentation, Federer nips over to talk to French television.

"It's incredible,'' he says, still very much emotional.

Soderling is up next. "I'm still happy. I had a great two weeks. I have to face it, Roger was the better player.''

Agassi hands Federer the Coupe de Mousquetaires (boy, he must have wondered if he'd ever hoist it), and he raises it proudly, more applause. Mirka captures the moment, and tears stream down Federer's face as the Swiss national anthem is played.

This time tears of joy!

Soderling speaks to the crowd.

"You really gave me a lesson on how to play tennis today,'' he says to Federer, smiling and in good spirits. He jokes to Federer, "No one can beat me 11 times in a row,'' drawing laughter. He nearly chokes up, too, when thanking his parents, who flew in from Sweden to watch the match.

For a guy with a bad reputation (Wilander feels it's unwarranted), a classy speech indeed.

Federer's turn.

"It's good to be on the podium as the winner for the first time,'' he begins with a broad smile.

He tells Agassi, "You're a hell of a guy and I wish you all the best in your private life but I don't miss you on the tour.''

Federer goes on to thank his own entourage, and mentions his parents and Mirka, the latter draped in a blanket. Ample applause ensues. He lastly thanks the crowd, who lifted Federer in those matches against Haas and Del Potro. What a turnaround for Federer. A month ago he was down and out. Now the pressure is off and he'll be favored to grab a few more majors, Wimbledon included.

Second Set

According to the stats, Federer tallied 11 winners and only four unforced errors, compared to three and six for Soderling in the opener. Nerves have to be a factor for Soderling, and not so for Federer. After all, here's a guy he's beaten nine straight times.

Federer is executing his varied game wonderfully, which will make Soderling think even more. A glimmer of hope, though, for Soderling -- Federer double faults to start the second.

That lasted long, then. Four straight points, and it's 1-0 Federer.

Federer is clearly on Soderling's serve: A first serve out wide gets pummelled for 0-15. Goodness me. Federer is human after all. Two unforced errors, including a routine backhand slice long, help Soderling get to 40-15. He holds for 1-1, and the crowd applauds.

The second straight time Federer loses the point to start a service game. Soderling actually has a chance on the next point, but there's that drop shot again. Remember, that's a shot that Federer admitted in the past he didn't like too much. He conjured it up in preparation for Nadal -- but Soderling is feeling the effects. Federer rallies comfortably for 2-1.

Good news for Soderling. It's raining, but only slightly. He's hoping for a downpour to stop play. Then again, if it's only gentle precipitation, even better for Federer.

Oh my God! A "fan'' if we can say that, gets on court, past security at 15-0. He walks up to Federer, and gets in his face, and Federer tries to shoo him away. He runs around the court before finally being accosted by a steward. (Broadcasters speculate he could be a Nadal fan.) Federer doesn't appear to be overly shaken and Soderling checks if he's OK. Federer nods approvingly. Soderling wins the next three points for 2-2.

That incident brought back memories of Monica Seles getting stabbed on court in the 90s. Time for the French Open to beef up security.

Perhaps sensing Federer is a bit shaken, they roar loudly when the Swiss takes the next point. Soderling misses a chance at 40-30, sending a forehand long and it's 3-2.

Here's a stat for you, courtesy of ATP wizard Greg Sharko and passed along by ESPN.com 's Greg Garber -- Federer is 155-4 lifetime in Grand Slams when winning the first set.

Just when Soderling has a bit of momentum, he double faults, No. 2, to allow Federer to get to 15-all. Oh, no. Then, Soderling comes in behind a looping forehand, gets a weak lob -- and sends it long! 15-30. Trouble big time.

A big kick serve on the second delivery helps Soderling out -- a backhand goes short cross court, and Soderling comes in behind a backhand neatly tucked down the line. This time Federer errs long.

No one will compare Soderling to Stefan Edberg, but Soderling comes to the net yet again, gets an easy forehand volley and puts it away. He comes in yet again -- behind a cross-court forehand, making another easy volley. Soderling did much the same toward the end of his match against Gonzalez, and it worked well. Good to see he's thinking. 3-3.

And with that, Soderling avoids unwanted history -- getting four games in the finale. The shortest French final in terms of games came in 1977 when Guillermo Vilas beat Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.

Federer holds easily, however, for 4-3.

Crunch time in the set now, and Federer would love to break and serve out the second. He gets a good start  Federer prompts a backhand error.

The rain is intensifying, with umbrellas popping. Tournament officials look towards the sky.

Uh oh. Not for the first time today, Soderling miscues on a forehand, and it's 15-30. Ooh, what a chance for Federer. Soderling comes in again, but this time behind nothing really, to Federer's forehand, no less. Luckily for him, the ball sails into the net.

Soderling seizes on the momentum. Lured to the net by a short return, he hits a clean winner off a backhand, then smacks a forehand winner cross court. 4-4.

The swirling wind surfaces further. Federer fails to put away a meek, high return at the net, but gets away with it when Soderling can't deliver on a backhand pass. 30-0. A hold at 15, and Soderling still hasn't got to deuce on the Federer serve. 5-4 Federer.

Soderling is under pressure, the rain still falling -- and steadily. But what a great point to start. Federer hits a backhand drop shot. Soderling reads it, gets to it, and hits it down the line as Federer guesses the wrong way.

How big was that point? Soderling builds on it, moving to 40-0. And Soderling holds to love. All of a sudden Soderling is holding comfortably. 5-5.

Federer gliding on his own service games, out to 40-0. Fed up to eight aces. A kick serve out wide opens up the court for Federer, and he sends a forehand down the line with Soderling nowhere in sight. 6-5 Federer.

Soderling serving to stay in the set for a second time. Let's see if Federer steps it up. On the first point he sure does -- lacing a backhand down the line. Federer is forced into an error on the forehand side for 15-all.

Speaking of the Federer forehand, the subject of much debate, he's only made one unforced error on that side so far. An accurate cross-court forehand from Soderling gets him to 30-15. And the Swede's forehand is suddenly reviving. He smacks one down the line, then pumps his fist. 40-15 and a tiebreak beckons.

Not just yet, a forehand sailing long. And then Soderling looks unsure as he approaches with his forehand. The forehand wasn't quite put in the right place, Federer has a look at a forehand pass and delivers. Deuce.

Oh boy! The next point Federer nets a routine forehand return, soon shaking his head. Back to deuce, as Federer mishits a backand pass -- that glides down the line.

A fourth game point for Soderling following a service winner, and no mistake. 6-6.

Federer is 6-1 against Soderling in their head-to-head tiebreaks, so Soderling needs that to change.

Federer with an ace. 1-0.

Soderling clubs one of his own. 1-1.

Federer wrong foots Soderling with a forehand, getting ample spin to move Soderling off court, and a forehand is coughed up. 2-1 Federer.

Yet another ace, No. 10, for Federer, and it's 3-1 Federer.

Wow. He is serving huge! Another ace for 4-1.

Soderling desperately needs these next two points to stay in the match. But he can't do it. Federer pounces on a return, and Soderling sends a backhand wide. 5-1 Federer.

This is now a rout. Federer is all over a first serve, reading it well down the middle, and has Soderling in trouble. 6-1.

How else to close out the set but, you guessed it, an ace. 7-1, and Federer is a set away from making more history.

First Set

Three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander is calling the match for Eurosport, and he says if Federer decides to play the drop shot early against the 6-foot-3 Soderling, it could be a quickie -- with his fellow Swede on the wrong end. Not only does Federer have the ability to move Soderling side to side, but back to front. No doubt that would take Soderling out of his rhythm.

Both players look relaxed in their prematch interviews. Soderling utters, "I always have a lot of fun playing Roger.'' Hmmm. Will he feel the same in a few hours?

Soderling receives polite applause walking on court, while Federer gets a monstrous ovation, with more than a few standing. He offers a wave.

The man in the chair is Frenchman Pascal Maria. Yes, Maria was the ump in last year's Wimbledon final and this February's Australian Open final, both Federer defeats.

Federer won the toss and elects to receive.

And we're underway. Soderling delivers a first serve well wide, and the first point goes to Federer. A lengthy rally ends with a Soderling backhand wide. Fed played good defense, and if he does that, it could be a long day for Soderling.

Now 0-30 when a backhand goes long. Fans applaud. It's Soderling versus Fed and the crowd. At 15-30, we see the first Federer backhand slice, but Soderling copes well with his own backhand.

A long forehand gives Federer a first break point at 30-40. Soderling is misfiring on his first serve, and sure enough, he double faults. Soderling only double faulted twice in the semis over five sets -- none came in the first three. 1-0 Federer.

With the crowd really behind him, Federer quickly races to game two. He holds at love, capping things with a fine backhand drop shot. The fans love it. 2-0 Federer.

Dare we say Soderling needs to hold to have any chance in this first set? A second forehand drop shot  after Federer repels a big forehand -- makes it 0-30. Soderling is missing shots he hasn't throughout the tourney, and make it 15-40. Soderling has yet to get into the match. A mishit Federer return floats in cross court, and it's 3-0 Federer.

Ace No. 2 and the onslaught continues. Maybe this isn't a bad tactic for Soderling. Fall behind big, and then get the fans on his side. After all, they want to see a bit of tennis, don't they?

They saw only a smidgeon of tennis in Game 4. Federer breezes through it, holding at 15. Soderling misses two routine shots, and his unforced error tally is up to seven. 4-0 Federer.

Soderling's coach, Magnus Norman, the last Swede to reach a French Open final, said beforehand he'd know exactly what to tell Soderling to keep nerves to a minimum. Not working. Another bread and butter forehand sails long down the line for 15-30.

"I feel so sorry for Soderling," Wilander says.

Wait, though. A mini revival, and Soderling has a first game point following an ace. Three pump fists in a row for Soderling -- Federer nets a forehand and Soderling is on the board. 4-1 Federer.

A third ace for Federer makes it 15-0, and he's served so well to start. If he can keep it up, more bad news for Soderling. The first time Federer wrong foots his bigger foe, sending a forehand into a corner. He makes his first net approach at 40-0 and benefits from a backhand long. 5-1 Federer in 19 minutes. He's only lost one point behind his serve.

Well played by Soderling. He comes in for the first time himself off an off-forehand and then deposits a backhand volley into the corner. 15-all. So much for the momentum. Federer smacks a forehand return to Soderling's feet, and the trouble continues. Two points from the set.

And here comes set point No. 1. Federer rips a cross-court forehand, prompting an error. One saved with a service winner.

Soderling fails to put away a short ball and pays the price. Federer rifles a passing shot, and it's 6-1 in 23 minutes. Somehow you think Gonzalez would have put a better fight.

Prematch
Roger Federer and history have yet another date. Odds are this time he'll be mighty happy the morning after.

Federer faces Swedish behemoth Robin Soderling as he tries to end his French Open hoodoo and nail down Slam No. 14, tying him for top spot -- among the men -- with pal Pete Sampras. Of course, Sampras never triumphed at Roland Garros, so a Fed win gives more weight to those suggesting the 27-year-old is the greatest of all time. (I can hear some out there saying, "But Sampras had more competition in his day." The debate is sure to linger.) A reminder that only five men have won all four majors, and only one, Andre Agassi, did it in the Open era. Agassi, by the way, is at Roland Garros.

Federer is appearing in a staggering 19th Grand Slam final, equalling the mark of the underappreciated Ivan Lendl. The Swiss has only lost five times -- all to nemesis Rafael Nadal. And when he's encountered unheralded foes such as Fernando Gonzalez and Marcos Baghdatis, he's emerged unscathed following early hiccups.

The stars do seem aligned for Federer, given his escape against Tommy Haas, mini-escape against Jose Acasuso, and five-set win over the ever improving Juan Martin del Potro in the semis. He's 9-0 against Soderling -- dropping a solitary set! Nadal and Novak Djokovic, considered the favorites in Paris, didn't get past the fourth round.

Now, if Soderling does manage to pull this off, it'll be one of the greatest Grand Slam performances ever. Knocking off Nadal is one thing (one very big thing), but the 24-year-old ousted Gonzalez, Nikolay Davydenko and David Ferrer, too. All three were in the top 10 in clay-court winning percentage last season. Soderling would become the first man since Spaniard Sergi Bruguera in 1993 (at where else, the French) to topple the world No. 1 and 2 en route to a Grand Slam title.

Just a word on the weather. Conditions are expected to mirror Saturday, overcast and not too hot, which favors Federer: Soderling's heavy shots won't have as much venom. Rain is a possibility, but let's hope it stays away.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.