An astonishing comeback that saw him save five match points in the final set sent Gael Monfils into the ATP Masters Series final for the second straight year and left Roger Federer wondering what he needs to win a title that continues to elude him.
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Federer has beaten Monfils twice on the Frenchman’s favorite clay surface at Roland Garros and was the odds-on favorite to notch his sixth straight victory over this flamboyant opponent on a court that plays as fast as grass. But it was not to be.
Monfils came through 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 Saturday to send the crowd of 14,000 into hysterics by winning the decisive breaker 7-4 after Federer shanked a couple awful forehands. It’s hard to know what would frustrate the Swiss legend most — making those appalling errors or failing to close it out at 6-5.
The final game was extraordinary. Monfils began with a double fault and was left stranded on his baseline as net cords plopped into his court twice in the span of six points. Federer stood a point from victory five times, but Monfils held steady during agonizing baseline rallies and forced the former world No. 1 to go for too much.
It was a herculean effort from the Parisian who, as usual, was never afraid to throw himself about the court in his acrobatic style.
It would have been tough on this enthusiastic crowd if Monfils became the second Frenchman to lose on a day of high drama. Earlier, unseeded Michael Llodra, playing some of the best tennis of his career, reached match point three times against Robin Soderling before going down 7-6, 5-7, 7-6.
Llodra will have nightmares about one of those match points because he sent Soderling the wrong way, opening up a clear channel for a forehand down the line. But the 30-year-old lefty didn’t quite get the footing he wanted and his shot slammed into the top of the net. Two inches higher and the match would have been his.
Soderling, who has lost in the past two French Open finals, is hoping that a third final in Paris, albeit in a very different atmosphere, will prove lucky.
"Hopefully, I can win this time," said the Swede, who went on to praise Llodra’s game. "I think when he plays indoors on these kind of courts he is one of the best players in the world. He serves unbelievable and he has the best volley on the tour, I think."
Llodra admitted that he was angry at himself for not closing it out but, rightly, tried to take a positive view.
"I beat Novak Djokovic who is No. 3; John Isner, who I lost to last week; and another player who generally bothers me a lot in Nikolay Davydenko.
"When the crowd were yelling, ‘Mika, Mika,’ it was incredible. I had very strong emotions during the match. I am really disappointed I lost, but I think I gave it all I had."