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Söderling rockets into French Open final

Robin Söderling blasted his way past Tomas Berdych into the French Open final on Friday.

Söderling rockets into French Open final

The towering Swedish player won a bruising encounter 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 and on Sunday he will go up against either four-times former winner Rafael Nadal of Spain or Austrian uprise packet Jurgen Melzer for the title.

The match went the full distance with Söderling grabbing the vital break of serve he needed in the seventh game of the deciding set before winning the last two games to make sure.

It will be the second straight year that Söderling has contested the championship match at Roland Garros, losing in the final to Roger Federer last year after handing Nadal his first ever defeat in Paris.

For Berdych it was a disappointing end to a tournament that finally, after years of under-achievement, saw him emerge as a real threat in the Grand Slam events.

“It was really tough to play my game today because he was hitting it so well,” Söderling said.

“I felt I was a little bit unlucky in the third set, but he played so well when it realy mattered. I had trouble with his serve.

“When I came here I was just thinking about the first round and seeing what happened and now two weeks later I am in the final again. It’s unbelievable.”

Two of the tallest men and biggest hitters in tennis, Söderling and Berdych had met eight times previously with the Swede leading the series 5-3. But Berdych won their most recent encounter 6-2, 6-2 en route to the Miami Masters final in April.

As expected, the final four showdown quickly developed into a deadly exchange of big serves and rasping groundstrokes down both flanks on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier centre-court.

Berdych was the first to flinch in the sixth game when he double-faulted on break point allowing Söderling to take a 4-2 lead. The Swede comfortably served out to take the set, the first Berdych had lost in the tournament.

It was more of the same in the second set, but this time it was Söderling who let his concentration slip in the fourth game with a couple of loose shots opening the door for the Czech to break serve for the first time.

Berdych held firm in his next three service games to level the set scores at one apiece.

The match was finely poised with the oncourt temperature soaring and it was Berdych who kept the momentum going into the third set, grabbing his second break of serve when Söderling double-faulted at 1-1.

Söderling had an immediate chance to break back in the next game but was denied by a Berdych service winner, but two games later it was Berdych’s turn to double fault on break point.

The fifth seed then moved ahead 5-4, but it was Berdych who finished the set stronger rattling off three games in a row as Söderling began to look the more tired of the two big men.

The Swede struggled to hold his serve at the start of the fourth set while Berdych was holding with ease, but it was the Czech who wilted first dropping his serve in the sixth game to leave Söderling 4-2 up.

That pumped up last year’s losing finalist and he comfortably served out twice to force a deciding set.

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Could Scandinavian countries lead the way in taking stand against Qatar World Cup?

Vehemently opposed to Qatar's hosting of the 2022 World Cup, football federations in the Nordic countries are putting pressure on Doha and FIFA to improve conditions for migrant workers in the emirate.

Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event.
Workers during construction of the Lusail 2022 World Cup stadium in December 2019. Football federations in Nordic countries led by Denmark have spoken out against Qatar's hosting of the event. Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Together with rights organisation Amnesty International, the federations of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland have ratcheted up the pressure in recent months, raising their concerns and presenting recommendations in letters, meetings with officials and pre-game protests.

“We are against holding the World Cup in Qatar, we thought it was a bad decision,” the head of the Danish federation DBU, Jakob Jensen, told AFP.

“It is wrong in many ways. Because of the human rights situation, the environment, building new stadiums in a country with very little stadium capacity,” he said.

Denmark is the only Nordic country to have qualified for the tournament so far. Sweden face a playoff next year to secure a place and Norway, Finland and Iceland have been eliminated.

Leading the charge, the Danish federation regularly publishes the Nordic countries’ letters sent to FIFA and holds talks with Qatari officials, including an October meeting with Qatar head organiser Hassan Al-Thawadi.

The main concern is migrant workers’ rights.

Qatar has faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, many of whom are involved in the construction of the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure.

Campaigners accuse employers of exploitation and forcing labourers to work in dangerous conditions.

Qatari authorities meanwhile insist they have done more than any country in the region to improve worker welfare, and reject international media reports about thousands of workers’ deaths.

The Nordics have also raised other concerns with al-Thawadi, Jensen said.

“Will homosexuals be allowed to attend the World Cup? Will men and women be able to attend the matches together? Will the press have free access to all sorts of issues to do investigations in the country?”

“And all the answers we received were ‘yes’. So of course we’re going to hold him responsible for that,” Jensen said.

The Danish federation said its World Cup participation would focus on the games played on the pitch, and it will not do anything to promote the event for organisers.

It will limit the number of trips it makes to Qatar, the team’s commercial partners will not take part in official activities there, and its two jersey sponsors will allow training kit to carry critical messages.

In Norway, whose qualification bid fell apart when its best player Erling Braut Haaland missed games through injury, the issue culminated in June when its federation held a vote on whether to boycott the World Cup.

READ ALSO: Norway’s economic police call for boycott of Qatar World Cup

Delegates ultimately voted against the idea, but an expert committee recommended 26 measures, including the creation of a resource centre for migrant workers and an alert system to detect human rights violations and inform the international community.

Like other teams, Norway’s squad also protested before each match by wearing jerseys or holding banners like the one unfurled during a recent match against Turkey, reading “Fair play for migrant workers”.

But the Nordic countries have not always acted in line with their own campaign.

Last month at a Copenhagen stadium, a Danish fan was ordered to take down his banner criticising the World Cup in Qatar, as FIFA rules prohibit political statements.

And Sweden’s federation recently scratched plans to hold its winter training camp in the emirate as it has done the past two years.

Sweden’s professional clubs had protested against the hypocrisy of holding the camp there while at the same the federation was leading the protests with Nordic counterparts.

The professional clubs wanted to send a “signal”, the chairman of Swedish Professional Football Leagues, Jens Andersson, told AFP.

Individual players have also spoken out. 

Finland’s captain Tim Sparv last week issued a joint appeal with Amnesty demanding that “FIFA must ensure that human rights are respected”, adding: “We are in debt to those people who have worked for years in poor conditions.”

So far, none of FIFA’s 200 other member federations have joined the Nordic campaign.

“Hopefully all these Nordic neighbours of ours and us taking these steps will have an impact on other countries,” Mats Enquist, secretary general of the Swedish Professional Football League, told AFP.

“We need to ensure that all the aspects of football, not just the richest, are really taken care of when we come to a place.”

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