Roger Federer, arguably the greatest ever men’s player in tennis history, has never looked back since winning his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003.
A year later he laid his hands on three more Grand Slam titles, with the French Open crown the only one to evade him. For the all-conquering Swiss, it seemed only a matter of time before he became the king of clay. But, enter Rafael Nadal.
The 19-year-old left-hander , an emerging force on clay, dislodged Federer from his path to the elusive French Open title in 2005. It was to become a trend as Federer lost four more finals at Roland Garros to the Spaniard.
Nadal went on to make the French Open his own by winning a staggering 12 titles at his favourite Slam. Within years of it seeming that Federer would win it all, it looked like the French Open may forever be out of his reach.
But Nadal was human after all. He lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open, opening a path for Federer to win his first Roland Garros title.
It was still, however, anything but easy for the Swiss maestro.
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In his opening match, Federer beat Spain’s Alberto Martin Magret in straight sets. But in the second round, he was made to sweat it out against Jose Javier Acasuso. Federer dropped the second set to the Argentine but recovered to win 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2.
The next round too saw Federer drop a set but he managed to come back and beat France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu in four sets.
In the fourth round, playing with the knowledge that Nadal had been knocked-out, the pressure on Federer to make the most of the opportunity was massive.
He lost the first two sets against Germany’s Tommy Haas. But just when it seemed that Federer would squander this golden chance, he regained his focus and stormed back to win the contest in five sets 6-7 (4-7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.
The comeback seemed to steady Federer who eased past France’s Gael Monfils in straight sets in the quarter-final to set up a semi-final with Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.
The semi-final was an epic contest and proof why Federer was one of the best players to have graced the sport. Two sets to one down to the powerful Argentine, the Swiss showed immense willpower to win the last two sets and power his way through.
In the final, he was up against Soderling, the only man then to beat Nadal at Roland Garros. With a Career Grand Slam in sight, Federer was at his sublime best as he upstaged the surprise package Soderling 6-1, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4 to win his first and only French Open title.
The Swiss was in tears on his knees as he rejoiced one of the most precious victories of his career.
“I just think it’s an unbelievable achievement. I’m very proud of my career, obviously. I achieved more than I ever thought I would,” said Federer after the match.
“My dream as a boy was to win Wimbledon one day. I won that five times. To get [the Roland Garros title] at the end, as the last remaining Grand Slam, it’s an incredible feeling. The waiting and the age definitely has a big impact on how important and how nice this victory actually is. It’s been a long time coming and I’m happy I got it today. I’m very proud,” he added.
Federer became just sixth player in tennis to complete the career Grand Slam and was presented with the Coupe des Mousquetaires during the trophy ceremony by Andre Agassi, the fifth man to achieve the feat.
His maiden Roland Garros title was special in more ways than one. With the win, the Swiss equalled Pete Sampras’ then-all-time record haul of 14 Grand Slam singles titles. However, the Swiss needed just 40 Grand Slams to reach the mark, in comparison to 52 that Sampras needed to win his 14th Grand Slam title at the 2002 US Open.
Nadal’s dominance on clay meant Federer has never been able to win against his great rival at Roland Garros, but this gritty triumph in 2009 surely ranks among his best.