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PARIS

Söderling slays Llodra to set up Paris final

Swedish tennis star Robin Söderling won a gruelling 6-7 (0/7), 7-5, 7-6 (8/6) semi-final to end unseeded Frenchman Michael Llodra's Paris Masters fairytale on Saturday, setting up a final clash with local favourite Gael Monfils.

Söderling slays Llodra to set up Paris final

Söderling, a two-time French Open finalist, had to save three match points at 5-6 down in the third set, with Llodra notably netting a forehand when the Swede was at the net and the court was at his mercy.

Llodra had never previously gone beyond the third round at a Masters event but he fought back from 5-2 down in the decisive tie-break, as a roller-coaster of an encounter reached crescendo after two hours and 49 minutes.

“My God, tennis is frustrating!” said 30-year-old Llodra, who is a member of the France team set to take on Serbia in the Davis Cup final on December 3rd-5th.

“But there you go, I have nothing to reproach myself for. I tried, I gave everything, I wasn’t far away and even though I’m disappointed, there’s still a great opportunity in the Davis Cup final.”

Despite the pain of defeat, the left-hander could console himself with the satisfaction of having produced arguably the best tennis of his career.

Having already beaten world number three Novak Djokovic and world number 11 Nikolay Davydenko en route to the semi-finals, he thrilled the Bercy crowd with his throwback style on Saturday.

His game at the net was particularly impressive and some spectacular volleys enabled him to whitewash Söderling in the first-set tie-break, before the Swede drew level after securing the decisive break in the second set.

Llodra required treatment on blisters in the decider but still had the strength to hit back from 4-2 down to force the tie-break.

Söderling’s victory sends the 26-year-old into the first Masters final of his career and, after final defeats at Roland Garros in 2009 and 2010, he will hope for better luck on the other side of the city.

“I hope that this will be the one,” said Söderling, who declared himself “happy and definitely lucky to have got through”.

Later on Saturday Söderling learned that Gael Monfils is to be his opponent in ATP Paris Masters final, after the French 12th seed stunned top seed Roger Federer 7-6 (9/7), 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/4).

Monfils fought back from 4-1 down in the third set to reach the final at the Bercy arena for the second year in succession, following his defeat by Novak Djokovic last year.

Monfils had lost all five of his previous meetings with world number two Federer, but he took a well contested first set when the Swiss superstar netted a forehand at 7-8 down in the tie-break.

The second set was every bit as tight as the first, but Federer managed to level the match after sweeping his way imperiously through the tie-break.

The game appeared up for Monfils in the third set as he fell 4-1 down, but the world number 14, roared on by a typically boisterous Bercy crowd, dug deep to see off five match points and scrap his way into the final

“I went to the limits of myself,” said a jubilant and exhausted Monfils.

“I feel better and better as the tournament goes on. I ran out of juice a little bit at the start of the third set but the fans were there, they pushed me and I kept believing.”

Federer, who is still to reach a Paris Masters final, was guilty of several uncharacteristic errors when the match appeared his for the taking and must now steel himself for an assault on the year-end ATP World Tour Finals in London.

“There were two pretty extraordinary matches today,” said Federer.

“We could have had a Llodra-Federer final and it turned into a Monfils-Söderling final. What’s disappointing is that I was in control of the situation with a break up in the third set.”

“Of course it hurts. On one of the match points I had the whole court open and I couldn’t put it in, a bit like Llodra in his match.”

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Hollande attends Sweden match to mark Paris attacks

Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet scored as France fought back to beat Sweden 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on Friday that was marked by tributes to the victims of last year's Paris terror attacks.

Hollande attends Sweden match to mark Paris attacks
Sweden's Emil Forsberg, right, outruns France's Djibril Sidibe on Friday. Photo: Christophe Ena/AP/TT
French president Francois Hollande was at the game to pay tribute in a capacity crowd of 80,000 at Friday's match, which was played on a national holiday to mark the day that ended the First World War in 1918.

 

A minute's silence was held in memory of the victims of the terror attacks that struck the French capital, and the Stade de France, almost exactly a year ago.
 
 
France were playing Germany in a friendly on Friday November 13, 2015 when three suicide bombers blew themselves up immediately outside the ground.

   
A 63-year-old man, Manuel Dias, was killed by one of the explosions at the beginning of a night of terror around Paris that killed 130 people and injured many more.
 
On Friday evening Emil Forsberg put Sweden in front from a free-kick early in the second half at the Stade de France in a meeting of the top two teams in Group A in European qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
   
But Pogba headed in the equaliser in the 58th minute and Payet profited from a goalkeeping error to score the winner and allow Les Bleus to move three points clear of Sweden at the top of the section.
 
“Decisive no, but important yes,” was how France coach Didier Deschamps summed up the significance of the result.
   
“It was a difficult game but the result is all that counts. Sweden made things complicated for us.”
   
The French team featured many of those who had played in that game against Germany, including Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, recalled in attack in place of Kevin Gameiro.
   
They had numerous chances in a bright start to the game, with Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen saving well from a curling shot from the edge of the box by Payet.
   
Pogba and Moussa Sissoko also sent efforts just over the bar, but Sweden — fielding a rejuvenated side as they rebuild following the international retirement of Zlatan Ibrahimovic — were an occasional threat too.
 
Indeed, they should have taken a 10th-minute lead, but John Guidetti, inside the six-yard box, was unable to convert a Ludwig Augustinsson free-kick from the left.
   
And they stunned the Stade de France when they went in front in the 54th minute, the impressive RB Leipzig winger Forsberg sending in a free-kick from fully 30 yards that left Hugo Lloris rooted as it swerved through the air and in.
   
However, France were level just four minutes later when Payet delivered a free-kick from the left and the world's most expensive player Pogba just beat team-mate Raphael Varane to the ball to head in his eighth international goal.
   
The relief was palpable and France — who have needed play-offs to qualify for each of the last two World Cups — went in front on 65 minutes.
   
Olsen failed to hold a cross under pressure from Antoine Griezmann — who was just offside when the ball came in — and Payet pounced to roll the ball in.
   
Griezmann almost got a third but Sweden made it a nervy finish with substitute Isaac Kiese Thelin missing the target with a great chance to equalise.
   
Their coach Janne Andersson was left to bemoan the lack of an offside call at the second goal.
   
“We deserved a better result. It is a bit of a shame because the second goal was offside, but these things happen in sport,” he said.
   
The Netherlands can join Sweden and also close to within three points of France with a win away to minnows Luxembourg on Sunday.
   
France are next in qualifying action in Luxembourg in late March, although they play the Ivory Coast in a friendly in Lens next Tuesday.