RG Day 10: Cometh The Time
Posted by gauloises1 on June 2, 2010
I didn’t like Robin Soderling very much in the past. I always thought of him as a somewhat grumpy, slightly odd player who couldn’t control his temper and while that’s exactly my flavour, I wasn’t enchanted enough with his game to root for him in earnest. His match against Nadal at last year’s Roland Garros changed that – not just because he blew the tournament wide open, but because he achieved the impossible and played at what seemed like an inconceivably high level for long enough to beat Nadal in his house, and you have to take notice of that. His emotional reaction to the victory, his run to the final and his behaviour throughout made me like him too, and more and more frequently after that I found myself rooting for him. Still, I’ve kept underestimating him ever since. How often have we seen players have one great season and then fade away? After he lost first round in Melbourne, I expected him to keep right on plummeting, unable to sustain whatever magic he’d found in 2009. I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t.
Robin Soderling d. Roger Federer, 36 63 75 64
How fucking impressive was this? I have to come clean and admit that I missed the conclusion of the match after the rain delay; I had to leave work and by the time I got home it was over and the expletive-worthy Eurosport player only archived the first portion of the match. I’m hoping to catch a repeat tomorrow morning, but in the meantime I’m just going to assume that Robin kept on doing what he did in the second and third sets, which is … what he does; powerful serving, big clean hitting, relentless attacking. He’s done it before against Federer – most memorably at last year’s US Open when he came *this* close to seriously unsettling the defending champion – but whether because he executed better, or because clay gives him just a fraction of a second longer to set up, or because the conditions let him impose more when he let fly as he consistently did, or just because it was his day, it worked. It really quite a lot worked.
I really don’t need to reiterate the magnitude of what he’s achieved; for the second year in a row, breaking a domination that seemed inevitable, turning history and a head-to-head on its … head. But I do want to say why I think I find it so satisfying, and not just because it’s always great to see an underdog win (or because I now have a cool kind of ‘what’s going to happen?!’ feeling about the next few days of tennis, which is always nice). I think it’s because before Roland Garros 2009, Soderling really seemed to have maxed out, not in terms of what he could achieve, but what he was ever going to achieve. After all, don’t we usually assume that once a player has reached their mid-20s without a really big victory to their name that they won’t ever get there, or that if they do they won’t stay long – that they’re lacking whatever crucial element it takes to truly make an impact? One great tournament, fair enough, but it’s usually rapidly followed by a return to their previous level. Soderling, on the other hand, took a huge step up and then kept going; presented himself as a new man and then sustained that transformation, even I think improving over the past twelve months. He interrupted the Fedal dialogue and has now irrefutably made himself part of the conversation, and it’s great not just because I like him, but because I think every fan out there has one or two players that they’ve always believed was capable of more if they could just get their head on straight, shake those niggling injuries, rise to the occasion, put it all together on the day. And Soderling for me really proves that it is possible, it is always possible, not just to reinvent yourself as a contender but to keep on challenging at the highest level. That’s a magnitude of impressive that I don’t have the words for. And I love seeing it.
All of which is to say … pizza and jelly beans in bed, Robin.
You earned it.