Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Big 4 is Now Officially The Big 5

Look out Big 4, Here Comes "Le Sod."

It's hot at @CoupeRogers, and for the ATP's top four, it could stay that way. Temperatures are rising right along with the prize money this week in Toronto. It's 85 degrees with 66% humidity on Tuesday, and there are plenty more hot days on the horizon.

The goal of the typical ATP top-fiver is to win in this heat, but not at the expense of one's health. It's the double-headed dragon known as life on the tour, and it knows no reprieve. The challenge of managing and maintaing fitness (staying hydrated, preventing injuries, recovering for the next match without a loss in efficiency, and so much more) in an environment that rewards only those who are willing to push themselves to the brink of exhaustion in the oppressive heat 2 or 3 times per day is no easy task.

But when you push yourself to the brink each day the risks of injury mount. In today's game, with today's outrageous physical demands, a two-week haul (Toronto, followed by Cincy) on the cement is not an easy task.

As I write, we're all still waiting for the first of the top-5 ATP players to get a match in. It's been a period of recovery for the big boys, as only Soderling (Bastad) and Djokovic (Davis Cup, Split) have played a lick since @Wimbledon. Of course, we're all wondering who will get a feel for the hard courts first.

Nadal is currently on a planet all by himself when it comes to rankings, but there is room for significant play in slots two through five. Soderling is looking at the best chances to move up if he can maintain his current form and put up some big wins between now and September.

While the massive Swede from Tibro, Sweden doesn't doesn't claim to care about the rankings (see video at top of page), but there's no denying that the things that Soderling does on the court merit him considerable attention in them. It is not difficult at all to imagine him becoming No. 3 or No. 4 in the next three months. That statement is based on fact as well as a premonition. It's based out of respect for his consistent results this year, but also for the fact that Soderling has very few points to defend all the way past the Australian Open in 2011.

From there, who knows where he'll go. He doesn't seem to lack for desire, that's for sure.

The aggresive young usurper—He is timid as a mouse off the court, but when he laces 'em up Soderling aims for total destruction—has NO WINS to defend in either Toronto or Cincinnati, and only a quarterfinal at the U.S. Open.

All of this adds up to a surefire recipe for a climb.

If Rafa is the Bull and Roger is the Maestro, then Soderling is the punk. He's three chords and a dream—a massive serve, a massive forehand, and a massive will to win. He's a simple guitar solo with loads of feedback and a smashed guitar on the stage at the end of the song. He's punk because he's rebellious, and because his style of play is abrasive, loud, and anthemic.

And, like most punks, he's chronically pursuing the keys to the castle. Because nobody wanted to give them to him he proceeded to bang down the doors. He may have come late to the party, but Soderling doesn't appear as if he wants to leave.

So please mark this blog post as the official beginning of the unofficial Big Five of men's tennis.

With more research you can quickly see why Soderling is in prime position for a surge. Federer, the current No. 3, has a Montreal quarter, A Cincinnati title, a U.S. Open Final, and an Australian Open title to defend. That's mad points right there No offense to Roger, but as far as the rankings are concerned he'll be swimming uphill for a while.

Murray, the current No. 4, is another target that Soderling has an advantage on. Murray has a title in Canada and a semi in Cincinnati to defend. Soderling will pass him in the rankings even if they both have good results.

If there ever was a time for Soderling to step up and prove that he truly belongs in the conversation about the best current players in the game, it is now.

He's got the wind at his back, and a pretty big sail.

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