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Robin Soderling’s Brand New Fear

July 17, 2010

https://i2.wp.com/im.rediff.com/sports/2009/oct/23soderling1.jpg

The year was 2009 and the man of the moment was Robin Soderling. The hard-hitting Swede had defeated the four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of Roland Garros. Soderling, with the help of new coach Magnus Norman, had caused one of the greatest upsets of all time. No one knew what the future would hold.

It all turned out fairly predictable. Soderling was overcome by nerves and Roger Federer in his first Grand Slam final and suddenly it was Federer who was the talk of the media and fans. Soderling was beaten once again by the Swiss at Wimbledon. Yet it was Nadal Soderling was expected to beat and on hard-courts at the end of year championships he did just that. Expectations have been greater for Soderling in 2010 following his break-out in 2009, the bar has been set a little higher and it seems as if Soderling is struggling to rise up and meet it.

Doubts over Soderling’s game and mentality never really came to the fore until the clay and grass seasons had concluded. It is only now, looking back on his year, that it becomes clear he is perhaps struggling with the extra pressure placed upon him.

Soderling’s 2010 Masters Series results have been average, especially considering the fact that he is supposed to be a much-improved player. His clay-court Masters performances were horrendous partially due to an injury and on hard-courts he could only muster semi-finals results in Indian Wells and Miami. This would be considered decent if the top four were playing good tennis. Yet at that point in the year Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray were all struggling. It was clearly Soderling’s best chance to grab a Masters but instead he suffered losses to the likes of Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. Decent players, but players he should be beating if he wants to be at the very top.

Soderling hasn’t performed much better in Grand Slams. Once again on the surface he appears to be doing well; his runners-up trophy at Roland Garros equalled his 2009 result and he improved by one at Wimbledon with a quarter-final showing. Soderling’s Australian Open campaign however left much to be desired, he went out first round after blowing a two sets to love lead. The slow hard-courts may not be his favourite surface but a player of his calibre with the confidence he appeared to have should never blow a lead that big. Especially at a Grand Slam. It showed that he was feeling the heat. It’s a feeling that hasn’t left him all year.

In 2009 Soderling was never expected to beat Nadal. In 2010 he went into the final at Roland Garros feeling pressure. There was belief from fans and the media that Soderling could beat Nadal once again and claim his first Slam. Soderling didn’t seem to share that belief. He came out flat-footed and played without energy. He may have had a five-setter in the semis but it really shouldn’t have made a difference early on. Yet Soderling started nervous and never seemed to come out of it. His performance in the finals was miserable. He was nowhere near good enough that day, which was a shock considering he had been in decent form all tournament.

Wimbledon was little more than a repeat performance. He met Nadal in the quarter-finals and was dealt with in four sets. Again the problem seemed to be self-doubt. Soderling had even more expectation placed upon him at Wimbledon; Nadal had been struggling, Soderling stunning, and grass was supposed to be a better surface for the Swede. He even started off much better than he did in Paris, but when leading 5-0 he fell to pieces. He was almost lucky to win the first set as he stopped hitting with determination and skill and started hitting out of his comfort zone. His shots were severely misfiring, he was making rash decisions and was far from the cool-headed Swede he had been in 2009. To think that this is how he reacted when 5-0 up is seriously concerning. Like in Melbourne, he panicked when there was absolutely no need. As a result he managed to make his Paris win look like a complete fluke.

It’s hard to predict where Soderling will go from here. What is clear is that some serious coaching is needed once again. Soderling’s improvements seem to have come to a stand-still and against Nadal his game looked awfully one-dimensional. Soderling may have come far with his do-or-die game but to take it to the next level he needs to work even harder to cut down on unforced errors. Soderling needs to be confident when a rally goes for more than two shots and in order to do that his movement will need to improve on all surfaces.

Of course, all this is fruitless if Soderling cannot improve his mind. The good news is that he has done that once already, before his break through in 2009 he was known for choking and not knowing how to close out a match. Soderling now needs to learn how to deal with the pressures and expectations that will always come with a world number five ranking. He needs to learn how to not just upset the likes of Nadal and Federer, but how to approach the next match with an equal amount of calm and determination. Most of all, he needs to overcome his fear of Nadal. That fearless, almost cocky hard-hitting player that stepped on those clay-courts of Paris in 2009 is starting to become a distant memory. Surely Soderling isn’t content with that.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. passingshot permalink
    July 17, 2010 11:49 am

    I think you are right about Soderling. After his defeat of Federer at the French, followed up by putting an in-form Berdych away in the semis, it looked like it was perhaps going to be his year to take the title. He had the game to beat Nadal – indeed anybody – as he had shown previously. If anyone ought to have been afraid in the final it should have been Nadal. But Nadal went out there and made no part of the court secure for Soderling – every ball came back, for a set and a half. Soderling’s self-belief drained away.

    Perhaps memories of that came back to Soderling as he leapt away to a 5- zip lead against Nadal at Wimbledon. During the tournament he had looked stronger than anybody. The faster surface lent even more pace to his huge serve and groundstrokes. But as Nadal came back at him – as he always does, in any match – Soderling lost rhythm, forced his shots, and the break became inevitable. Much easier to be an underdog than the man expected to deliver. Only two players have lived with that burden in modern times.

    • July 18, 2010 8:03 am

      Completely agree, especially that if anyone had cause to fear it was Nadal. He even looked scared at Wimbledon, he failed to serve out that set and DFed twice in it! God if Soderling couldn’t capitalise on that well what can he pounce on??

      I really hope del Potro can add to the two that can play wonderfully when expected! (Counting down until his return!)

  2. July 18, 2010 5:38 am

    Great article man, it was thoroughly captivating! I definitely thinks that the added pressure really gets to these guys. There are very few guys in sports history who have that killer tough mentality to take it all the way. Nadal just seems to be one of those guys, but the thing is if Soderling can stay healthy for the next little while it could be possible that Nadal starts to fall as Federer is already. Nadal’s health has always been an issue and it always seems to be an issue these days more so than before.

    Also, I wrote this a while ago but I’d love for you to take a look cuz I really wanna hear what you think. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/nadals-last-chance/

    • July 18, 2010 8:00 am

      Do you want to exchange links??

      Thanks for the compliments. I just read yours and liked it. I disagree on a few points, (not just that Nadal is the most likeable player!!), the first being that Federer is over the hill because he hasn’t won the last two majors. As you yourself said, it was all said in 2008 and he came back and won three. Federer should never ever be counted out on majors, he’s the greatest of all time and he commands more respect than that. Secondly, I think Nadal is close to or the greatest player of all time on clay. However, it’ll be hard to ever put him in contention for the GOAT with his hard-court play. One Australian Open and not a finals placing at the US?? The Nadal hype starts this time every single year and it stops soon after as hard-courts are too quick and fast for his game. I do however think his best shot is this year with Federer not on top and del Potro injured. Speaking of del Potro, you seem to have forgotten him when you mentioned people who can challenge Nadal. I seem to remember him conceeding just six games in their US Open match last year. Del Potro is young, hungry, and has exactly the game required to beat… well, anyone.

      I agree about the injuries though. He probably hasn’t really been 100% but like you said, a lot of that seems to be his fault. Add to the fact he has already mentioned retiring and looking forward to life without tennis and it’s hard to imagine he could be around long enough to play enough to top Federer’s majors. I think the US Open 2010 is his best shot but I don’t think he’ll be winning it more than once, much like Federer and the French, (I feel he’s a bit been there done that). We also seem to agree on Soderling, but again I think del Potro has Soderling’s game but better.

      Anyway, I’d be keen to exchange links and twitters if you want? 🙂

  3. Keith permalink
    July 18, 2010 4:19 pm

    Both Soderling and Del Potro have that heavy killer forehand and on their exceptional day both can beat anybody.

    Problem is, that killer forehand kills their arms as well. Both strike with huge full-stretch backswing, going for an overkill almost each time. And guess what, both suffer from chronic tendonitis in their right arms, Del Potro in his wrist, Soderling in his forearm. Both injuries appeared once they started to regularly reach quarters/semis/finals last year, typical for that kind of overuse injury.

    Both tried to compensate by moving more and improving their backhands, but this only lead to other small injuries (knees, rib muscles). Thing is, both players are too big & lumbering for tennis and their game is one-dimensional, with little variety.

    • July 18, 2010 10:09 pm

      True, but Nadal has been plagued by injuries as well and it hasn’t stopped his success. Sure, there’s been some time out but it’s unlikely we will see Federer type dominance for quite some time. Soderling and del Potro both represent the new breed of player (add Berdych and Cilic to that list), they’re not too big for tennis and their type looks set to dominate in the future.

  4. passingshot permalink
    July 18, 2010 11:43 pm

    Kaitepai, I don’t think you can use Nadal to support the “injury argument” in respect of Del Potro and Soderling. I don’t think there can be any real doubt about Del Potro being forced off the tour for months because of serious injury to his wrist (Soderling’s problems I know less about). However, like an increasing number of sceptics, I don’t buy the persistent “I have serious knee injuries” from Nadal. The guy has “injuries” (patella tendonitis) which should have taken him off the tour for months, which should have produced a dramatically impaired performance, and after 4 years, have probably ended his career. And what do we see? An “injured” Nadal in the form of his life, running like an Olympic sprinter on his “bad knees” and annihilating all opposition, and all without any significant recuperative break. Oh, and jumping for joy at Spain’s victory in the World Cup. Some knee problem.

    Compare that to the situation for James Blake: serious knee tendonitis, similar treatment as Nadal (PRP therapy), physically reduced performance, chronic pain, an extended period off the tour (10 weeks) – and now he is is looking at retirement because surgery is his only option. I can personally vouch that that is what knee tendonitis can do to you. It’s just not possible to be Superman – or Nadal – at the same time.

    • July 20, 2010 12:16 am

      You’re so harsh! Haha I do see your point although I do think something is wrong, I mean he did miss Wimbledon last year. Poor James Blake, he’s had it rough. I hope he doesn’t retire but then his career has been in constant slide. He said he would play the US Open no matter what and then decide. What the guy above also missed is that del Potro has been struggling with injuries his whole career, not just since he got good. He got good because he could finally play for an extended length of time without injury interuptions. Hopefully he’s back soon, he’s my second fav and I’m sick of having to rely on Roger!

      ‘If you are bored with life, you are too stupid to think of something to do’

      -Ernests Gulbis 2010

    • July 29, 2010 9:41 pm

      Yeah but with James Blakes’ knee tendinitis he refused to take anti-inflammatories and painkillers which Nadal has been taking regularly since 2007 and I would say 2 months at the end of 2008 and 14 weeks overall throughout 2009 are quite extensive injury lay-offs

  5. July 20, 2010 12:38 am

    Hey my twitter is http://twitter.com/paintstheblack, and I will add your link to my blogroll 🙂

    My website is http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/

    What’s your twitter?

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