Found this piece I wrote when Federer won the French in 09. At the time, I didn't despise the man's character the way I do now. I do remember thinking how lucky he was, though, and that's the thrust of the article.
LAST MAN AT THE RAFFLE
When the rains came and everyone abandoned the Parisian garden party, one man remained to meekly proffer a soggy raffle ticket. In exchange, Andre Agassi handed him the Musketeers’ Cup and the tears began to flow.
You can’t dislike Roger Federer. You just instinctively recoil from his position as President of the Guild of Fortunate People. The man has a warm relationship with God; Roger simply asks and it is given.
You want to win the French without facing Djokovic, Murray or Nadal? No problem. You want a pushover final against a guy who’s 0-9 in head-to-heads? Consider it sorted. You want a slower court for the final to neutralise the Soderling bombs? How about a steady drizzle (but not so wet that you have to leave the court)?
Make no mistake, Federer won this title, but he won it by divine providence. For the last two years, we’ve been watching a memory - a man ekeing out the last vestiges of his title-taking abilities by dodging the big guns. His sole slam triumph last year - the US - came without facing the Djoker or Rafa, and against an Andy Murray clearly affected by first-night nerves on the biggest stage of all.
I’ve watched Fed over and over as he shanked forehand after forehand and thought: can’t you just get it sorted? It’s a technical problem, a little fiddling with the turbo compression ratios; perhaps just changing the plane of the racket head on contact with the ball. Wimbledon takes place in SW19, but in the 07 final against Rafa, Roger’s forehands were finding another postcode altogether. He took that title by serving scuds.
But today, at Roland Garros, I feared the worst for Roger. He came out looking pristine: all glossed locks and best gear. I expected a battery of shanks as he revelled in the role of Man about to Put a Hole in History.
I needn’t have worried. Soderling was shaky, with the occasion, with the weather, with the sheer enormity of facing The President of the Guild in such extreme circumstances.
It’s a very special guild. If he hadn’t wielded a bat with such aplomb, a position would have awaited as Swiss banker, a part of the Eton Old Boys’ Network, with homes in Monte Carlo and Chamonix. Oh yes: Roger’s a part of a special set of people for whom things just fall into place like the locks of their because-you’re-worth-it hair.
And so it was in the second-set tiebreaker. With Le Sod matching Fed game for game on serve, and Roger shanking away on the foreside, he suddenly found his serve. Five scuds later and the deal is all but sealed. Yes, serving’s only one part of the game, but it can win you titles. Just ask Sampras.
Soderling, with his spiky hair and awkward feet, had chucked a hailstorm at Fed, but Roge had thrown back silken rain in pursuit of his dream. And now he just had to get that well-oiled first serve in, which he did for 75% of the duration, to claim a place in history.
“It’s maybe my greatest victory, or certainly the one that removes the most pressure off my shoulders,” Federer said. “I think that now and until the end of my career, I can really play with my mind at peace, and no longer hear that I’ve never won Roland Garros.
“Now the question is: Am I the greatest of all time? We don’t know, but I definitely have many things going for me because I’ve finally won all four Grand Slams, and I’m particularly happy reaching Pete’s 14.”
So, it’s maternity, paternity and now eternity for Federer. Clearly, a deal has been struck here with a much higher force. We eagerly await Roger’s part of the bargain.