PARIS — A shotmaking frenzy! What else could you call the two firefights — aka semifinals — that lit up Roland Garros Saturday, leaving Fernando Gonzalez and Juan Martin Del Potro biting the swirling salmon-toned dust.
Hail to them.
Though defeated, they made a showdown such as this old ball park hasn’t seen in 39 years: a brilliant final four, two heatedly contested semis that really weren’t determined until the last moments of the 5-set clashes.
Oh yes, in battles of “anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better,” Roger Federer and the suddenly grown way-up Swede, Robin Soderling, remained standing. Continuing his rush through supposed betters, No. 23 Robin pulled his fourth consecutive upset, knocking down No. 12 Gonzalez, 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4. Of course he had turned the tournament upside down by shattering the one-man dynasty, Rafa Nadal. But since, he has proved it no accidental day in the sun, by nailing No. 10 Nikolay Davydenko. Also pre-Nadal, in the 3rd round, bouncing No. 14 David Ferrer. This man is hell on Spanish-speaking foes.
Especially at the climax. Just when Gonzalez had sprung back by winning two sets, and building a 4-1 lead in the 5th, Soderling re-awakened his own powerful deceptive groundies and his guiding spirit — “I want more! — and rammed his way through the last 5 games. Wow.
With all those goodies awaiting a prospective French title, Federer had to be feeling the emotional pressure — and he certainly felt the bang-bang pressure of Del Potro, who shadowed him to the end, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 2-6, 6-1, 6-4. Roger was lethargic early, flaming late, and happier than he has been all fortnight. One victory away, but I wouldn’t count “I want more” Soderling as an automatic out. I think he has the stuff to beat Roger (despite his decapitated 0-9 head-to-head), if Federer doesn’t have his greatest day in Paris.
The last time for a pair of 5-set semis at Roland Garros was 1970: Czech Jan Kodes over local Georges Goven, and on to the title. Texan Cliff Richey lost to Yugoslavia’s Zeljko Franulovic, ever regretting the match points he had in the 7-5 5th set. Hall of Fame Kodes took Franulovic, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0, and won in 1971 as well.
Surely it will be great for Roger to walk into the arena, look around — and not see Nadal, who has beaten him here four straight. What a bountiful vision: Rafa nowhere in sight.