Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nadal-Soderling: The Tennis Gods Wanted it This Way

Can lightning strike twice in two years at the French?

There are enough intriguing elements to tomorrow's French Open final between Rafael Nadal and Robin Soderling to keep people up all night in anticipation. Rather than turn in, many tennis fans are currently queueing up the Warren Zevon song "I'll sleep when I'm dead," and getting their popcorn ready for what promises to be one of the most exciting Grand Slam finals in a long time.

Nadal, the king of clay, seeks his fifth Roland Garros title, while Soderling, the avenger, seeks once again to crush the hopes and dreams of one of the game's greats (he's becoming a true expert at that to be sure).

While some may still be lamenting the fact that Roger Federer missed his chance to take another stab at Nadal on the red clay of Stade Phillipe Chatrier, most have come to grips with the fact that there simply could not be a more drool-worthy final matchup than Nadal-Soderling.

The history is indeed hard to ignore. Of the five matches that these two have played, two have lived on in infamy.

Things got ugly between Nadal and Soderling at Wimbledon in 2007, and since then their rivalry has taken on an added dimension. While it's always about tennis first with these two, there is now an undercurrent of animosity that adds color to their impending clash. Whether or not these two actually throw darts at pictures of the other on a regular basis is unknown, but there is good reason to speculate on the matter.

In the fifth set of their third-round match, Nadal, irked by Soderling's decision to run to his chair to grab a new racquet as he was preparing to serve, made mock gesture of showing Soderling the ball when he returned, as if to say "are you ready now, dude?"

The crowd burst into laughter, and a miffed Soderling then proceeded to delay the match further by stamping around the baseline and becoming the first player on tour - even before Djokovic had the gall to do it in a good natured manner - to poke fun at Nadal's well-known habit of picking his shorts from his butt.

The rest is history. Nadal won the match, then crushed Soderling love and one on the clay the next time they met - two years later - in Rome.

Little did we know that all this time Soderling was planning a swift and decisive revenge. Again this is purely speculation, but he sure played like a man out for revenge when he shocked Nadal into submission at Roland Garros last year.

At a time when the public was certain that Rafa could not be tamed on the red clay, Soderling pulled the upset of the century, and then emerged as a first-time Grand Slam finalist later in the week.

One year later, Soderling - who is now firmly ensconced in the top-10 - thrashed Roger Federer to end his streak of 23 Grand Slam semifinal appearances, proving that he remains ready, willing, and able to go on a rampage.

But don't think for a moment that he'll be able to catch Nadal off guard like he did last year. Whether or not Nadal's injuries were already lowering his level of play when Soderling met him last year is a question that might be better off left alone. But the mere fact that Rafa was beaten - and beaten so badly - last year, means that his already legendary will to fight and to find solutions will be heightened significantly. We've all seen Nadal demonstrate that iron will and stiff resolve of his on so many occasions - look for him to be ready for the battle of his life tomorrow.

And what can we expect from Soderling, now that he's been to a Slam final before?

"Hopefully I can handle it a little bit better this year than I did last year, because last year everything was so new for me. I played many matches against good players, I think I learned from every one."

Meanwhile, Nadal is not interested in drawing Soderling's ire. When asked about his relations with the big Swede he diplomatically replied, "I think he was very shy in the beginning. I think so, no? But I think he improves a lot. For sure for me is good to have a player like Robin playing at this high level on the tour."

Neither player appears interested in wasting any energy - positive or negative - in press conferences. Better for them to save it all for the match.

Better for us, too.

As far as the tennis goes, we are talking about the two players who approach the clay in different ways, but both have achieved stunning success at Roland Garros.

Nadal is the grinder who seeks to tire his opponent by sending his lethal topspin drives from corner to corner, while Soderling is the home-run hitter who looks to hammer the first short ball that he sees in each rally.

Conditions will no doubt play a factor, as Soderling will hope that he gets dankness and wet clay, because this will allow him more time to run down Nadal's shots, while his power will still allow him to hit through the conditions. Nadal, meanwhile, will hope for sunshine, as the drier the clay is, the higher his shots will bounce, and the faster his shots will move through the court.

But neither player appears too concerned about all the things that are so intriguing to us.

"I have to play my best tennis, and that's what I gonna try to do," said Nadal.


  1. I won't use the adjective I'd like to describe how I feel about Soderling. Especially this kind of behavior at Wimbledon - oh my! Rafa is such a class act in comparison to Soderling.

  2. Only one is left in the prediction list and that is Rafa. If he doesn't win against Robin Sod, that's fine with me as long as Sod will play at his best.

    In never knew Sod's was under the sponsorship of ADIDAS until I watch the video.


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