Rockin’ Robin repeats his feat of clayTuesday, June 1, 2010
By Drew Lilley
| For the second consecutive year, Robin Soderling stepped onto Philippe Chatrier court ready to rock the tennis world and rewrite the history books. 367 days after stopping Rafael Nadal’s 31-match winning streak at Roland Garros and inflicting the Majorcan’s first and indeed only defeat to date on the Paris clay, Rockin’ Robin took his best shot at Roger Federer – and knocked the champion clean off his feet.
And after two-and-a-half hours of play, the Swede had brought an end to a record which may never be broken. Since losing to Gustavo Kuerten here in the third round in 2004, Federer had gone on to reach 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals. And then along came Rockin’ Robin…
The No.5 seed barely missed a shot all afternoon. He hit the ball with a combination of alarming strength and absolutely unfeasible accuracy. As the match reached its thrilling and yet inevitable conclusion, Federer carved out a break point and with it, a glimmer of hope. Soderling turned out the lights with an ace, in the outside corner, at 226 km/h.
“I try to be focused in every match. I played really well, even in the first set. I didn't serve that well in the first, and that was the only difference. I played a better match today than last year's finals,” said Soderling in reference to his 6-1, 7-6, 6-4 loss to Federer in last year’s championship match – one of 12 defeats in a row to the Swiss world No.1 before he finally put an end to yet another streak on Tuesday with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win. “It's difficult playing in your first Grand Slam final, no doubt. Now I am in there and I’ve played on the centre court a couple of times. It was a little bit easier this time.”
Rain brought a halt to proceedings with the match on a knife-edge at a 1-1, 5-5 in the third. “The balls got heavy, but I played good matches in this kind of conditions in the past, and I think it suits my game pretty well. It was a little bit slower, but I managed to serve really well and take the ball early. It helped me a lot,” he said with his usual disarming honesty – a trait which Federer also showed in his press conference.
“I don't think I played a bad match, so it's easier to go out this way,” said the Swiss. “Conditions obviously were on the rougher side for both of us, and I thought he came up with some great tennis. It's a touch easier to digest this way. He played aggressively and kept on coming. When the conditions got heavier when we came back from the rain delay, he played well. That was a tough set for me to lose after having those chances and being up 40 15 on my serve when I came back.”
Talk inevitably turned to the loss of his consecutive semi-final streak and also, potentially, the No.1 spot – if Nadal wins the tournament, then he will depose Federer one agonising week short of equalling Peter Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at the top of the rankings. “They all come to an end at some stage. You hope they don't happen, but they do. It was a great run. Now I've got the quarterfinal streak going I guess,” he said, flashing a rare smile. “As far as the No.l ranking is concerned, it’s in (Nadal’s) hands now. Things change really quickly. I won’t be following the rest of the tournament and hoping that Nadal doesn’t win just so that I stay on top. The best player should win, and he’s the best at the moment.”
The French crowd will likely side with the Majorcan if and when he and Soderling meet in the final, now that their idol Federer has fallen. Fortunately for the deposed champion, the Swede will see this as an extra source of motivation. “I don't really care, you know,” said Soderling at the end of his conference. “I play for myself and I play for the win, not for the crowd.” And as Federer found out on Tuesday, when Robin Soderling goes for the win, there can be little stopping him…