Soderling has done it again.
To many, this is probably one of the most improbable runs at a Grand Slam in recent memory. While he certainly isn’t the lowest ranked player to get this far, Robin Soderling has never made it past the 3rd round of any major, ever! The guy has not even won a clay event in his life...And here in France, Soderling has not only made it to the finals, he defeated arguably the greatest clay court player of all time, in what was one of the greatest Major upsets of all time.
Against Nadal, Soderling bullied the Spaniard into submission with bullets from the baseline and a high-risk game that left no room for error. Nadal couldn’t breath out there, he was getting choked, he couldn’t get into a groove, and he couldn’t impose his game back on Robin. Watching live, you sensed the struggle Nadal was having out there. His hair was a mess in his bandanna, his face was showing frustration and nerves not seen before, it was the unwinding of a champion.
With Davydenko, it was a clinical showcase of brawn, that didn’t relent until the final point was won by Soderling. This was the pulverization of another player, and may have defined Soderling, just as much as the Nadal victory did.
Fernando Gonzalez however is a different beast. Gonzo can take the heat, and dish it out with his own forehand that can make knees weak on court. It’s powerful, game changing, and demoralizing. Soderling however kept his game in check, and with a 5th set break to get back on serve, and another break to open things up, the Swede again walked away from an improbable win (which included 74 winners, including 16 aces), and a stunning berth in the French Open finals.
What is Cinderella in Swedish anyway? Cinderellansenn?
What is equally intriguing is Soderling’s personality, and how others perceive this tour "loner", including the tour players, and fans.
Robin is an Alpha, or some interesting form of an Alpha. Perhaps he isn’t a born leader, but he certainly doesn’t follow. He strikes me as the type of individual who has stubbornness to burn, and will go out of his way to take his own path. He’ll do it his way, or no way at all.
There’s also the confrontational side to the guy. We all now know about the Nadal-Soderling Wimbledon affair; however what struck me even more was his immediate reaction to the victory against Nadal here at the French Open.
His throwing of arms, the swagger to the net, and barely a look at Nadal as the quick handshake, if you can even call it that, took place (the barely was a moment directly into Nadal’s eyes however). Of course not to be admitted, but this was certainly an “F-U Rafa” moment that took place there in Soderling’s head, and I get the sense that Nadal actually received that message. It was an ending to a match that was as clinical as the match itself.
The fans were shocking during the Nadal-Soderling match as well. I couldn’t believe my T.V. set when I actually heard Soderling’s name being chanted by the French crowd. It was an interesting moment that I believe had at least a minute impact on the match. How confused Nadal must have felt? The multi-French Open winner, the undefeated King of French clay, was losing (or at least split) the pull of the crowd? Against this “jerk”? This was supposed to be Rafa’s home, and yet somehow it started feeling like Stockholm.
Roger Federer could be playing GOD out there, and the crowd would still pull for Roger! It’s another interesting contrast between the two.
The finals will be Soderling’s toughest battle. He has some time to rest up and prepare, but with the final hurdle being the guy who will (arguably) take over the “GOAT” title with a victory at the French against Soderling…That makes Soderling an even greater underdog than against Nadal.
Federer is playing for immortality. A title that only one person gets to hold, and potentially hold for a very, very long time. It’s a victory that would complete Roger’s resume and allow him to one day retire knowing that he had done it all.
So where does this leave Soderling on Sunday then? With nothing to lose, absolutely nothing to lose. What happens when you become such an underdog that pretty much everyone expects you to lose? You become even more dangerous. You turn your high-risk assault into an ultra-high-risk assault on the mighty Federer.
It’s impossible to go against Federer here though. After all, Soderling may just crash and burn on Sunday, but if he shows up on Sunday, Federer will have his work cut out for him. You can guarantee that the Viking will be seeking the same game plan as he used against Nadal – Smother him, don’t let him breath…and don’t let him be Roger Federer.
The Tennis News Authority