Through to Semifinals
November 25, 2010 -- Robin Soderling never had caused top ten players much angst. But after the big Swede took out Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros in 2009, his profile skyrocketed.
This crushing defeat for Nadal, his first in four years in Paris, fueled Soderling's mind and might. He had swallowed an elixir called confidence; and, his name began to evoke unease from the best guys out there.
Roger Federer felt Soderling's sting this spring in the quarterfinals of the same spot Nadal fell from favor -- Roland Garros. Federer had never lost to Soderling. Their head-to-head stood at 12-0. But Soderling had tasted supremacy against the world's answer to the greatest clay court player of all time. If he could beat Federer in Paris the victory would halt the Swiss maestro's stunning 23 consecutive appearances at Grand Slam semifinals. Soderling triumphed over Nadal. Why not conquer Federer on the terre battue?
The day was cloudy and chilly, and the clay damp. The conditions favored Soderling's huge serve and forehand. The ball sat up at attention for him and away went his wide whale of a swing. Thwack! Federer's lively footwork was helpful, but his shots didn't penetrate as cleanly as they would have had the clay been drier. Down went the legend in a disheartening loss.
They have met twice since that dark day for Federer fans: in the quarterfinals of the U. S. Open and the Masters 1000 Shanghai. Soderling went down in three in New York, and down one and one in Shanghai.
Their head-to-head stood at 14-1 until today when, once again, Federer came points away from dashing all hopes of Soderling advancing to the semifinals at The Barclay's ATP Tour Championships.
With multiple scenarios for Group B possible, Andy Murray only had to win one set this evening against David Ferrer to completely slam the door on Soderling. Odds were with the Scot. English fans stood by hopeful.
Federer's win today spoke of a continued dominance. He showed variety, turned would-be drop shot into winning chips, and pulled serves out of a hat when needed. He went up a break early in the first set, lost it, and won a tiebreak that screamed 'luck.'
The next to last point was a net cord winner for Federer. The winning point came as Soderling stretched Roger wide to the ad court. He ran the ball down and flicked a backhand looper up and over Soderling. In an unfortunate split-second decision, the Swede let the ball sail by. It spun in.
"I got lucky on that shot," Federer said on court immediately following his victory.
Soderling came close to breaking Roger twice in the second set, but nothing converted. Federer's won 72% of his first service points and 34% of return points, edging Soderling in both categories.
Putting the stats aside, which can be read and written to the delight of the viewer, Federer played better. Quite simply.
"Tennis is fun," he said to Mark Petzl of Sky Sports. "Anyway, it's supposed to be."
Federer was happy he didn't waste much energy today, given the end of the season pull to unwind. He mentioned he couldn't recall what his team told him to do today in order to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
"I think they told me one set," he added, smiling. The scoreline was 76(5) 63.
"He was quite brilliant," Annabel Croft remarked from the Sky Sports booth. "He raised it when he needed to. That's the kind of magic he can accomplish. It makes him a special tennis player."
Robin Soderling could still win majors. He broke through for his first Masters 1000 title in Paris. And, he sits at #4 in the ATP Tour ranking. It's a shaky hold, though, with Murray twenty points behind.
To be a great tennis player, Soderling needs to spend some time expanding his on-court repertoire.
His serve and forehand are lethal, that's a fact. His inside-out forehand enhanced his score today. He hits a flat ball, which is another asset in a world of ultra topspin. But the man has little to no touch, or net game. He's 26; the age of accomplishment stands before him like a wide-open court. Expand the tool collection and he'll add titles.
With Murray's decisive win over David Ferrer -- 62 62 -- Murray clinched the second berth in the semifinals from Group B, and probably the #4 ranking come Monday.
Now Federer and Murray await the competition from Group A, which will be determined tomorrow on the O2 Arena's stage. World #1 Rafael Nadal plays Tomas Berdych, a rematch of the Wimbledon final; and, Novak Djokovic plays Andy Roddick.