Gone at 23
June 1, 2010 -- Robin Soderling knows how to upset the men's singles draw at The French Open. He did it last year to Rafael Nadal, dethroning the purported King of Clay and then #1 player in the world for the first time ever on the terre battue. And, today, Soderling blasted world #1 Roger Federer off the same court, the man who held the record for appearances in consecutive semifinals at a grand slam -- 23 -- an achievement that spanned six years.
The win was Soderling's first against the mighty Federer, too. The new Swedish hero had never beaten Federer in 12 prior meetings. This one was Soderling's lucky thirteen.
"Of course it's nice to beat the world No. 1 two years in a row," Soderling said, showing a slight smile. "I think I played really well."
Federer won the first set 6/3, seemingly in total control. Two more and he'd advance. He served well and put his trademark forehand shots out of Robin's reach, which was difficult because although Soderling is a big man (6' 3") his wheels are well greased.
However, in the second set Soderling hit like a crazy mad man -- one winner after another. He swung away with abandon and hit his marks. His serve, in the chilly damp conditions, penetrated the court. At times Federer looked lost and flatfooted. He bunted returns. Soderling wound up the biggest swing in the game and fired cannonballs to every conceivable spot. When someone's on fire like that, even Roger Federer has trouble putting it out.
"At times I guess I could have played a bit better," Federer admitted. "He served well. I didn't take my chances early on in the second set. And, then, in the third set, as well."
Pouring down rain forced play to abruptly stop in the third set, on Federer's serve 40/15, and at 5-games all. Mother Nature's timing was seriously in question, or so Federer fans probably thought.
When they came back Soderling picked up as if he hadn't missed a beat. He blasted winners and served bombs. He wiped out Federer's 40/15 lead, broke to go up 6-5, and won the set 7-5.
"That was a tough set for me to lose," Federer started, "after having those chances and being up 40/15 on my serve."
What was hard to believe today was the duration of time Soderling remained focused and in the zone. At times tour pros can run off a number of games or repeatedly break their opponent, which occurs more on clay than other surfaces because it's slower.
But it ends or slows down, at least. It doesn't go on and on like the French train a grande vitesse named Robin Soderling barreled along, no questions asked about his destination.
"He played really well for almost an entire match, really," Federer said in a matter of fact tone.
Soderling concurred, "Overall, it was a great match from the start until the end."
The spark that ignited the inner Viking in Soderling was his victory over Nadal last year. He said then in his post-match press conference that he always knew he could beat the big guys and 'now I have.'
His confidence skyrocketed; he took his spot in the finals losing to the man he beat today -- Roger Federer.
Soderling continued his run, after leaving Paris. He qualified for The ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he scored wins over Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. He compiled a 40-10 match record through the end of 2009, and reached a career high ranking of #8 in the world. He was the first Swedish player to break into the top ten since his coach, and former finalist at Roland Garros, Magnus Norman reached the top ten in 2000.
"When I grew up there were so many good Swedish players on tour," Robin said. "I looked up to them and they inspired me. Hopefully, I can do the same with young kids in Sweden now."
Federer's streak of 23 semifinals is a record that won't be broken any time soon, if ever. Ivan Lendl reached 10 consecutive semifinals, which is the second most on record.
"It was a great run," Federer said. "I think it sort of started here when I lost to Kuerten back in 2004. I've made incredible progress. I am proud to have that streak, and it's probably one of the greatest ones I have in my history book."
Federer was certainly disappointed after his loss today. However, he said he'd played a good match, which eased his melancholy emotions. He also saw the defeat from the bright side.
"Now I've got the quarterfinal streak going."