To paraphrase Robbie Koenig, if you couldn’t get with tennis on Saturday you are a very hard person to please. What a day of tennis; arguably one of the best pair of semifinal matches in recent history.
First, it was Robin Soderling saving 3 matchpoints in a 6-7(0), 7-5, 7-6(6) thriller over Michael Llodra.
“Today it was a great match. It wasn’t maybe pretty, but I’m here as a winner,” reflected Soderling. “I think tennis is a very mental sport, because everybody can play; everybody is so good. So it’s the mental [aspect] that’s going to decide a lot of matches.”
And he’s right, tennis is so very mental.
After getting blasted by Llodra in the first set breaker at love, the Swede hung around got a break to win the second and then went up an early break in the third.
But credit to Llodra. The 30-year-old was playing the tournament of his life – he had beaten John Isner, Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko to reach the last four – just kept making incredible volley after incredible volley. It was breathtaking to watch at times.
And finally, with Soderling serving 5-6 Llodra earned three matchpoint chances during an epic 15-minute game. Soderling survived but Llodra had a the chance of a lifetime with a good look at a forehand pass off a poor Soderling volley that the lefty just shoved into the net.
That was it. That was the moment. That’s why tennis is so mental.
Llodra still forced Robin to the brink in the breaker but that forehand pass is something Michael is thinking about this very minute.
If that wasn’t enough excitement the second match featuring Roger Federer and Parisian favorite Gael Monfils arguably exceeded the drama of the first semifinal.
Monfils, playing some spectacular tennis, nabbed the first in a breaker. Federer rushed back taking the second also in a breaker.
At the start of the third Monfils began to wobble. The showman appeared to be tiring as Federer went up a break 4-1 in the final set. And it looked like a washout for the Frenchmen on Saturday.
But Federer began to spray the ball – we’ve seen that movie before, haven’t we? (Berdych, Baghdatis, etc). Monfils got the break back and got the momentum, the energy and the crowd, which seemed to be rather subdued for much of the second semifinal (perhaps worn out from the first one).
Then with Monfils serving at 5-6 another epic game, this time it was the Frenchman trying to save his ass. Federer had not one but FIVE matchpoints chances on the Gael’s serve but was simply unable to convert. Federer made some poor errors in the end while Monfils toughed it out to close out the game and win it in a final set breaker.
The final score: Monfils saved five matchpoints to win 7-6(7), 6-7(1), 7-6(4).
“I’m happy I won against Rog,” said Monfils who had been 0-5 career against the Swiss. “He’s someone I admire a lot. He’s a legend of tennis, ‘the’ legend, and beating him is a beautiful victory. I will remember that for my whole life. And also it happened in very special conditions for me, in Paris, so it’s only happiness.”
Said Federer, “I feel good. I’m playing well. It was not a bad match today. I’m happy with my performance. Clearly with a victory today I would have had big chances of winning this tournament tomorrow. This is not the case, so now I have to look at the future. I’m going to prepare for London.”
Incredible stuff from both matches. As for Roger, unless he craps out of London I’m not putting much into this defeat. Fact is he did have matchpoints – yes, five of them – but at this stage of the season he’s looking toward London.
For Monfils it’s a tremendous win and a great confidence booster. And he’ll need that tomorrow against Soderling. Robin’s 2-0 against Gael and both those were straight-set wins.
“The toughest thing for tomorrow is that I want that victory,” Monfils said. “I know it’s not going to be easy, because Robin really killed me last week. I think I’m going to step into the court and put pressure on him as much as I can. I’m at home. I want that victory. It’s going to be interesting, let’s say.”
But this is Paris and Monfils will have the crowd in a frenzy and he’ll be dancing like a jitterbug out their. I just don’t know how much Gael has left in the tank. He’s had issues with fitness before, especially in 5-set matches, and after a string of three-setters this week and then an emotional win Saturday there has to be some concern that there’s little in the way of reserves.
And even further worry when you consider Soderling is a guy who doesn’t care about who he’s playing or how much the crowd is against him. He just save a handful of matchpoints in his win over Llodra in front of his very vocal crowd. He’s also played spoiler in beating Federer and Nadal in Paris and I’m sure he won’t hesitate to put another dagger in heart of the French fans by taking down Gael.
But I’m going to stick with Monfils tomorrow. Somehow, after a long week of tennis, playing in the last match of his 2010 season he walks away with the biggest title of his career.
Allez La Monf!
SUNDAY PARIS SCHEDULE
CENTRAL COURT start 12:15 pm
M Knowles (BAH) / A Ram (ISR) vs  M Bhupathi (IND) / M Mirnyi (BLR)
Not Before 3:00 PM
 G Monfils (FRA) vs  R Soderling (SWE)
Also Check Out:
Federer, Roddick, Murray March on in Paris; London Finals Field Set
Roddick v. Simon, Nadal v. Monfils Part of Intriguing Third Round in Paris
Roddick v. Nalbandian; Monfils v. Soderling Friday
Federer, Murray, Roddick Headline Paris Wednesday
Murray Survives Wrist, Nalbandian Scare; Federer, Djokovic Breeze in Paris