The curious value of having waited and waited, and waited some more, for a deeply craved prize found one of its more stirring public demonstrations Sunday on a corner patch of persnickety red clay at Roland Garros. There, a renowned Swiss tennis genius at the advanced age of 27 crumpled to his knees, covered his face with his hands and teetered toward the dirt. And when Roger Federer sprang up from that and slammed a ball into the gloomy sky, his face had contorted to a fleeting sob.
He would live the rest of his life as a champion of the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament he had not won. He would tie Pete Sampras at a record 14 major titles, and he would know the accomplishment of winning all four Grand Slam tournaments, as have only five other men. The last was Andre Agassi, a decade ago, and he presented Federer with the Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy.
"Maybe my greatest victory — or certainly the one that takes the most pressure off my shoulders," Federer said in French, moments after his 6-1, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4 win over Robin Soderling. "I think that now … I can really play with my mind at peace and no longer hear that I've never won at Roland Garros."
Federer had come heartbreakingly close to winning here in the past, losing the previous three finals to Rafael Nadal. So there was something poetic about his getting a career Slam in Paris.
"I knew the day Rafa won't be in the finals, I will be there, and I will win. I always … believed in it," said Federer, seeded second.
Federer entered Sunday 9-0 against Soderling, seeded 23rd, and other than the threat of postponement because of rain, there was never any doubt he would be 10-0 by day's end.
Federer showed off the athleticism and artistry that have carried him to wins at the other Slams: Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens. He hit more aces than Soderling, 16-2. He broke Soderling four times. He won 40 of the first 47 points on his serve. He won five points with delicate drop shots. "You really gave me a lesson in how to play tennis," Soderling told him.
For only two moments was Federer shaken: as the last few points were played and during a bizarre episode when a man jumped over the photographer's pit and ran on the court.
It happened after the first point at 2-1 in the second set. The intruder went right up to Federer and tried to put a red hat on him. Federer brushed him aside before security guards got close enough to intervene. After hopping the net, the man was tackled and jailed for questioning.
"A touch scary," Federer said. "Looking back, it definitely threw me out of my rhythm a little bit."
He lost that game at love, then quickly settled back into a groove. But when he stepped on the court to try to serve out the match, he was churning inside.
He put a forehand into the net. He sailed a backhand long. He shanked a swinging forehand volley 3 feet beyond the baseline to give Soderling a break point. "My mind was always wondering, 'What if? What if I win this tournament?' " Federer said.
He gathered himself and won the next three points to do it.
Men's career Grand Slams
Roger Federer (14) — Australian (2004, 2006-07), French (2009), Wimbledon (2003-07), U.S. (2004-08)
Roy Emerson (12) — Australian (1961, 1963-67), French (1963, 1968), Wimbledon (1964-65), U.S. (1961, 1964)
Rod Laver (11) — Australian (1960, 1962, 1969), French (1962, 1969), Wimbledon (1961-62, 1968-69), U.S. (1962, 1969)
Andre Agassi (8) — Australian (1995, 2000-01, 2003), French (1999), Wimbledon (1992), U.S. (1994, 1999)
Fred Perry (8) — Australian (1934), French (1935), Wimbledon (1934-36), U.S. (1933-34, 1936)
Don Budge (6) — Australian (1938), French (1938), Wimbledon (1937-38), U.S. (1937-38)
Men's Slam wins
Grand Slam wins leaders:
14: Roger Federer, Pete Sampras
12: Roy Emerson
11: Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver
10: Bill Tilden
8: Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall
By the numbers
11 Opponents Roger Federer has beaten to win his 14 major titles: Andy Roddick (three times), Rafael Nadal (twice), Andre Agassi, Marcos Baghdatis, Novak Djokovic, Fernando Gonzalez, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Mark Philippoussis, Robin Soderling and Marat Safin.
19 Grand Slam finals for Roger Federer, tying the record of Ivan Lendl.