As the ATP top four cross the English Channel to London, Paris prepares to crown a first-time Masters 1000 champion.  Fittingly, both finalists have showcased the finest tennis of their careers in the French capital, where Soderling has reached two Slam finals at Roland Garros and Monfils his only previous Masters final in Bercy a year ago. Beyond that similarity, Sunday’s contestants share a curious rift between their personality and the playing style; the introverted Swede possesses one of the sport’s most explosive offenses, while the flamboyant Frenchman has crafted one of the sport’s most agile defenses.  Separating the two finalists, however, is their clear classification into the categories borrowed by Isaiah Berlin from an ancient Greek poet.  Whereas foxes develop an array of minor skills, according to Berlin, hedgehogs focus upon developing one crucial skill.  Thus, Gael the Fox relies upon a combination of versatility, finesse, craftiness, and movement, while Robin the Hedgehog eschews variety for the single most important skill in the sport: the ability to project raw, bone-crushing power.  We select five key factors that favor either the fox or the hedgehog.

Recovery from the semifinals: Saving multiple match points before seizing third-set tiebreaks, neither Monfils nor Soderling will arrive at their freshest in the final.  After the most impressive victory of his career, the Frenchman will bring greater emotional momentum to Sunday but may suffer a psychological hangover from the thrill of storming the Bastille.  Having carried him to three consecutive three-set thrillers against top-10 opponents, Gael’s knees may feel ready to rest until Davis Cup.  Overcoming a less imposing opponent, Soderling can suffer sluggish footwork when weary, yet he looks should enjoy deeper energy reserves than his opponent.  He recorded three authoritative straight-sets victories before his semifinal epic, and his first-strike style exerts less physical strain than does the Frenchman’s affinity for elongated rallies. Advantage, Hedgehog.

The magnitude of the moment: Competing in his first Masters 1000 final, Robin struggled in both of his major finals despite excellent tournaments until that stage.  Moreover, the Swede lost two Masters semifinals this year before breaking through on his third attempt, so he may pass through a parallel process before claiming his first Masters shield (a question of when, not if).  Just a tiebreak short of claiming his first shield a year ago, Monfils displayed no debutante nerves but instead soaked up the atmosphere with his characteristic insouciance.  Improbably returning to the identical position a year later, he should gain confidence from his near-victory last year as well as his recent title in Montpellier.  Those memories should allow him to retain a positive attitude more easily than Soderling when adversity looms.  Advantage, Fox.

The French crowd: Although he flopped spectacularly at Roland Garros this year, Monfils does not crumble under the gaze of his compatriots as do many of his peers.  A former semifinalist in his country’s major, the two-time Bercy finalist also has acquitted himself creditably in national team competition, even conquering Davis Cup superstar Nalbandian.  The beloved, mercurial “La Monf” also possesses a game seemingly designed to electrify a crowd; blessed with outstanding athleticism, he routinely lunges, leaps, darts, and sprawls at both significant and insignificant moments.  Notorious for his simmering temper, by contrast, the moody Swede has mastered his emotions more effectively than in the past, yet he will find few friendly faces among the Bercy multitudes.  On the other hand, he experienced the same sensation against both Simon and Llodra before dispatching those Frenchmen, so his earlier rounds may shield him from the whirlpool of impassioned nationalism swirling around him.  And home-court advantage has not proved a critical factor in Masters finals over the past two years, when local heroes in fact have endured a losing record in these situations.   Advantage, Fox.

Their (recent) past: Unnoticed by all but the most dedicated fans, the Valencia event last week provided an inadvertent preview of the clash between the fox and the hedgehog.  On that occasion, the hedgehog remorselessly thumped the fox with the loss of just five games.  Although the surface in that Spanish tournament proved much slower than the slick courts in Bercy, one would imagine that the faster surface would augment Soderling’s hopes even further.  Note one caveat, however:  Monfils can expose the Swede’s indifferent footwork and movement more easily on a faster surface if he can prolong the rallies past the first few shots.  But that “if” is massive, and both players surely will remember the events of last week regardless of the contrast in surface.  Advantage, Hedgehog.

Who needs it more: After a somewhat stagnant second half, Soderling would relish the opportunity to assert himself just before the year-end championships, where he charged within a few points of the final last year.  Such a statement of intent also would lift him past Murray into the top four and potentially improve his draw both in London and in Australia.  For Monfils, though, this tournament represents a platform upon which to catapult into Davis Cup glory in December.  Moreover, the Paris title would legitimize his elite status and quell the detractors who label him a shiftless, incorrigible underachiever.  If this magnificent entertainer can buttress his style upon a base as substantive as a Masters shield, he would gain the respect that his athletic gifts deserve.  Deuce.

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After the final Masters 1000 match of the season, we shift to a player profile on a newly initiated member of the ATP’s fatherhood fraternity, who shares a passport with Monfils.

Gilles Simon famous French tennis player

 

 

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