AN UNFORGETTABLE SHOT KEEPS ROGER ALIVE; NO NEED TO FIGURE OUT NADAL

Louvre fountain

Louvre fountain

For weeks people kept asking me, “What does Roger have to do to beat Rafa and win the French Open?” That was the question perplexing journalists and fans.

Schemes and theories were set forth with a lot of advice and hope. The Federerians outnumber all other player-followers, and they were suffering.

So what is the answer to the question? Nothing. Nothing, as it turns out, courtesy of the hardly known Swede, Robin Soderling, Roger doesn’t have to beat Nadal – but this is no time for the relieved Federerians to relax. Roger still has to beat three other guys, and that may not be within his reach.

His quarter-final foe Wednesday will be that French fireball whose hairdo I envy: Gael Monfils. Monfils gave Federer a very hard time in the semis last year, and cruised past Andy Roddick, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.

Federer came close to joining Nadal all right. Not in the final, but as temporarily unemployed. Tommy Haas was beaten, 6-7 (4-7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2, but he had it within his grasp in the 3rd set. Roger, serving at 3-4, break point, needed the shot that he thought saved him. It was a brilliant inside-out forehand, barely inside the sideline. “That was a turn-around,” he said. “I’ll always remember it. It got me started. Then I was starting to feel like myself. I didn’t against [Paul-Henri] Mathieu and [Jose] Acasuso” – two troublesome foes.

That one shot turned the match away from Haas, who couldn’t keep up after a splendid start.

An interesting statistic is that in the first set, Roger won all six of his service games at love. He did not lose a single point on his serve until the two he lost in the tiebreaker causing him to drop the set. This was the fifth time Roger had come back from a two-set deficit in his career. Most recently at the Australian Open in 2009 defeating Czech Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. He had once before come back at the French Open in 2001 against Sargis Sargsian, 4-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 9-7.

Roger recognizes Monfils as an up-and-down speedster – murder when he’s up. Next, if Roger clears that hurdle, is probably the ever-improving Argentine, 20-year-old, 6-foot-6 Juan Martin Del Potro. He broke French hearts and their boy Willy Tsonga, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-4.

On the other side of the draw lurks Andy Murray, who has a 6-2 edge on Federer. Federer himself warns, “Don’t overlook [Nikolay] Davydenko.”

So, Federerians, hold your breath and cross lots of fingers. Your guy is still a long way from the long sought French title – but closer than Nadal.

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