Roger Federer’s strange inability to win this ATP Masters title at Bercy in eight previous attempts was consigned to the history books here when he outplayed the hugely popular Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6(3) — and still got cheered by the appreciative crowd of 14,000.
Players facing French opponents get notoriously short thrift from Parisian spectators, but they know a class act when they see one and, after cheering for Tsonga right up to the last despairing point, they stood for the champion as he struggled to lift the weird looking piece of modern art that acted as this year’s trophy.
"One thing I can tell you, it’s heavy," he laughed. "Almost cramped my biceps. This is steel, so you can imagine how strong I am."
Despite a cold, which he may have caught from his young twin daughters, Federer was in his most ebullient mood. "I thought it was incredible for me to win here in Bercy for the first time," he said. "I was hoping so much to be able to do that. I couldn’t be more happy. I’m really ecstatic to have played so well this week from start to finish."
He then admitted that he woke up feeling nervous and tense. "I was hoping the night would go well but suddenly I was running with Mirka into their room to see if (one of the twins) was OK. And she said, ‘Let’s take her into our bed’. I said ‘OK, let’s do that.’ I didn’t even question this. I can’t have a fight at 4 in the morning with (my wife)!"
None of that seemed to have any effect on court as Federer edged himself further forward in the record books. It was his 99th tour final and ended up as being his 18th title win at Masters 1000 level which moved him past Andre Agassi and left him one behind Rafael Nadal.
This win, following his success in Basel last week, has gone a long way toward salvaging what has been a generally disappointing year for the former world No. 1 who failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2003. He may struggle over five sets now but he still loves to play, loves to compete and it takes something very special to beat him.
"I’m not playing to prove anything to anybody," he said. "I play for myself. I play for my team. I play for Switzerland and just to enjoy myself, too. I cannot expect that after 10 years everybody will have only compliments about me. I understand sometimes I might be criticized. So I can see the big picture. I hope I can play good tennis again. If I can play like this week, everything is still possible."
The match itself was not a classic. Tsonga, who refuted ideas that he might have been tired after his big battle with John Isner on Saturday, never played nearly well enough to put pressure on the man he had beaten at Wimbledon and Cincinnati this year. Too many backhands plopped into the net and the Frenchman, who is currently without a coach, seemed to have no particular game plan other than to try to whack the ball as hard he could.
Afterwards, he as much as admitted that Federer had prevented him from hitting his favorite forehand. "His ball goes a lot faster, he hits earlier," Tsonga explained. "I don’t have time to turn around and play my forehand."
Federer, in contrast, kept on producing flashes of the kind of grace in motion that has made him one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the most successful, athletes of his generation to watch. In a rare moment of touch and precision, Tsonga lifted a lovely lob volley over Roger’s head, placing it perfectly in his opponent’s backhand corner. Federer raced back, swiveled and, catching the ball at about knee height hit the perfect backhand cross court pass. Tsonga could only watch.
Both players admitted that the opening few games had proved important. Tsonga had a break point on the Swiss serve in the first game. "If I win that first game, it’s a different set," Tsonga said.
"It’s crazy to say – and maybe it’s not true – but those two opening games maybe decided the match," he offered. "They certainly gave me great confidence and great direction."
In the end Federer was so much in control that he won the last 15 points on his serve. Now London beckons and, not surprisingly, Federer has been installed as favorite to win the ATP Finals where he will be defending the title.
Former US Open finalists Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, the team known as the Indo-Pak Express, won their first Masters 1000 title when they defeated the French pair, Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut, in the final, 6-2, 6-4. The pair, who managed the rare feat of bringing the Indian and Pakistani ambassadors together in harmony to watch them at Flushing Meadows, have now qualified for the ATP Finals in London next week where doubles play draws huge crowds. Their presence will only enhance the interest.