Archie's concerned about Nadal's sagging confidence, but not enough to pick Soderling.
So my big pitbull (pictured above) is pretty serious about picking these matches, and he absolutely insisted that I get these posts out before play begins tomorrow. See Archie's pick for Azarenka-Li here.
So, here goes.
Nadal vs. Soderling:
Archies Pick: Rafa
Why: Rafa's been barking about how he's not happy with his game, but we all know that on the Roland Garros clay nobody has more bite.
My pick: Rafa
Why: The press have been having a field day with Rafa's last two pressers, and who can blame them? When the No. 1 player in the world admits that he's lacking in confidence, frustrated by his inability to develop his game due to the rigors of the schedule and feels like he's "100 years old," you have to prick your ears up and sound the alarm.
Is Rafa really that downtrodden, and if so, will he snap out of it in time to win his 6th Roland Garros crown?
There's no doubt that Rafa has not been as dominant in 2011 as he has been in the past at the French, but he hasn't lost a set since John Isner took him the distance in the first round. Meanwhile Soderling, who is the only man to ever defeat Rafa at Roland Garros, hasn't lost a set since the first round either, so something will have to give tomorrow.
As good as Soderling is, particularly on clay, this match will rest on Rafa's racquet. True, he's surrendered more games than usual of late (53 is the most he's ever dropped in the first 4 rounds), but he had 20 break points against Ljubicic in the 4th round and 10 more against Antonio Veic in the 3rd round. Rafa may be a level below his best, but the level he's at should be good enough to get past Soderling. The real problem for Nadal is that he's got Djokovic on the brain at the moment, so anything that isn't perfect probably isn't good enough in his mind.
And if his mind isn't right, his confidence could suffer. Tennis is a game of confidence, so Rafa will need to find a way to grow his belief in the next two rounds if he intends on meeting and knocking off Novak Djokovic in the final.
Tomorrow's quarterfinal, against a fierce rival, could provide the impetus that Nadal needs.
As far as Soderling goes, he's been to back-to-back finals now and he's defeated the defending champion in each of the last two years. Counting him out of this match would be crazy. He'll look to impose his brand of quick strike tennis on Nadal, and if Rafa comes out flat, watch out.