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K.I.S.S. Revised 06/01/2010 - 3:07 PM


by Pete Bodo

Let's alter the source of that KISS acronym to, Keep it Simple, Soderling. Because that's what Robin did at Roland Garros today, dethroning defending champion Roger Federer and halting the reigning no. 1's other-worldly streak of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearances. 

Soderling accomplished what, oh, some 110 previous opponents have not been able to do at all those other majors (16 of them eventually won by Federer), but Juan Martin del Potro was able to accomplish in a match that had no bearing on Federer's semifinal streak because it occurred in a final (at the U.S. Open last September; don't for a moment think Soderling wasn't watching). Soderling took the game to Federer and overpowered him with a deadly combination of raw power tennis and a willingness to put unrelenting pressure on Federer's backhand.

The winner-to-error ratio was significant. Soderling rained down 49 winners, nine more than Federer, and more than the top seed in every set but the first. Soderling also hit a yeoman's share of unforced errors (42, to Federer's 27), but that's the nature of go-for-broke tennis; you can smack three ugly errors to go down 0-40, but if you win the game, who cares?

In that regard, the forced error stats may speak most eloquently for Soderling's effort: Federer made nine more forced errors (48), which tells you what kind of pressure he was under. Added up (if my math is correct) that amounts to 124 points that were decided by Soderling winners, errors he forced, and gifts from Federer. That's 30-plus games worth of points (on the admittedly shaky assumption that four points equal a game).

But this was a slightly more textured form of simple than it might appear, for straight-ahead power players usually play on their own terms, and hit the ball any danged place they please. Soderlings innate recognition of, and respect for, Federer's forehand convinced him that discretion is the better - but not the only  - part of valor. In this match, he played with equal measures of both, synthesizing a lot of Rafael Nadal (pressure the backhand) and Del Potro, or even a guy like Fernando Gonzalez: take huge cuts, burn the lines, hold nothing back and hope it all works out okay. In other words, Keep it Simple, Stup - er, Soderling.

At the outset, It appeared that Federer would meet this challenge as he has met so many similar ones. He won the first set comfortably, but lost his momentum and promptly lost the first three games of the second; the damage was done, and it was enough to put the wind at Soderling's back. He made his early break stand up as the men held to serve out another 6-3 set.

Soderling made his key break of the match in the eleventh game of the third set, for 6-5. He was shaky, serving that next game, but he never lost his nerve. He served out the set following what appeared to be an egregious error by umpire Stefan Fransson. Federer hit a forehand that appeared to be out on set point, but Fransson checked what might have been the wrong mark and refused to overrule.

Federer never got his racket on the replay ball, a heavy ace.

By then, the off-and-on drizzle was adding to the complications. The men left the court once (in the third set) for an extended rain delay, but spent part of the third and almost all of the fourth looking up at the skies, glaring at the tournament referee, consulting the umpire to talk about - what else? - the weather. . .

At one point, early in the fourth set, they rested in their chairs on court for a spell while the umbrellas sprouted throughout the stadium. Each man sat like a spent prize-fighter, red towel draped over his shoulders, under an umbrella. It was certainly a distraction that posed greater problems for Soderling, as it always does for the underdog who must fear fear that his momentum is broken. And Soderling is enough of a veteran to know that you allow the champ to hit the re-set button at your peril. There's a world of difference between "any given day" and "any given two consecutive days."

Play on, the umpire said.

The most telling moment appeared to be the third game of the fourth set, with Federer up a break at 2-0. He played a dismal game, falling behind 0-40. For a moment, he remembered who he is, and saved a break point with a service winner. But he made a forehand error on the next point to allow Soderling to even the set, and from that point on Federer was the one struggling to stay in the match.

The main difference, in the big picture, was that Soderling reached out aggressively to take the match, and he did that from start to finish. Meanwhile, Federer did a fair impersonation of Hamlet, his game fading in and out like the signal from a distant radio. More and more, it looks as if Federer is not really playing to win, the way a Soderling is in these upward arcing days of his career.

It seems that Federer is playing not to lose. He's doing a fair job of that, hanging in, fending off, snarling and snapping like a captive wolf in a cage. But Federer doesn't seem to seek the freedom represented by victory, or triumph over his captors and adversaries. He doesn't appear to want to attack, break through, run like the wind and distance himself from his tormentors.

The question, going into this event, was whether Federer would muster the focus, hunger, and determination that seems to have been in remission since he won the Australian Open. Did he have a stock game for most tournaments and a custom one for majors?

Unfortunately for Federer, Soderling was the most dangerous of opponents to entrust with those questions. He asked them all, and we all saw the answers.

The press conferences are just coming up; I think I'll wait until tomorrow to assess it all.

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Posted by Nam1 06/02/2010 at 08:25 AM

"maybe the folks who go to RG felt cheated last year after Sod took out Rafa "

I think you missed the parts of the match last year where they were chanting Robin's name and booing Rafa!!

and to your question, "am I the only person who would like to see a Soderling-Djokovic final? "

short answer "No".

Posted by Nam1 06/02/2010 at 08:27 AM

there may be one to 2 more who want that final but thats it, I think, most people are hoping for a Rafa-Sod final...frazzling Rafa fans are saying let him get to the final first.

Posted by Annie (Vamos Heavenly Creature) 06/02/2010 at 08:34 AM

Match call is going on on the Throwing the Sink post. FYI>

Posted by leigh 06/02/2010 at 08:40 AM

Borg told Swedish newspaper Expressen on Wednesday that Soderling “will become the world’s No. 1, and will do it faster than we can expect.”

Soderling is going to feel so much pressure to continue to do well. Can he handle these expectations
from the great Swedish players?? We'll see.

Posted by felizjulianidad 06/02/2010 at 08:45 AM

Caroline, Soderling was never Federer's tormentor. Apart from Nadal, the only pros I can think of are Cañas and Nalbandián, but the former only got two lucky little leads and Nalbandián is a more of a neck-and-neck thing since their junior days. I don't consider Djokovic and Murray to have ever been Federer's tormentors - they challenged him, bothered him for a bit, and have since not been able to do anything of significance against him in a bit stage.

As for Soderling, I can't make sense of the guy. The other day I saw an interview or two and I almost thought that he's actually just a fairly straightforward guy that the media has insisted on depicting as an a**hole, but to be honest... now I'm leaning towards "sociopath".

Posted by Mike 06/02/2010 at 09:10 AM

No doubt there were/are a few players that Fed didn't/doesn't match up well against (most notably Rafa, especially on clay), but when in his prime up until now ... he still managed to win more than he lost enough to remain #1 nearly the entire time (it took 5 years for his #1 nemesis to reverse it, and only for a few months).

I just think age, family life, mileage, and other factors are starting to take just enough out of Fed to turn what would have once been a narrow victory into a loss. I honestly think it started after the mono diagnosis (less consistent) ... and has been slowly taking it's toll since. You simply can't win them all forever ... all streaks come to an end sooner or later. >sigh<

Posted by big_tennis_fan 06/02/2010 at 04:39 PM

Soderling was so courteous and humble when he lost last year's final at Roland Garros to Roger. Remember him saying something like "Roger gave me a lesson in tennis today". This guy certainly has the right combination of audacity and game to be the champion. Good luck Sod:)

Posted by Jim 06/02/2010 at 05:51 PM

I had forgetten about the gift that Federer got on set point against in the third---that Hawkeye showed was out a few inches. I'm a Federer fan to the bone, but I'd have puked if Roger had come back to win the set.

That was just wrong. The same type of thing cost Djokavic a point late in the fifth today.

How, in this day in age, do the French officials justify this? Are they sweeping the court after each struck ball so they're sure not to stare at the wrong mark? (And I can't see it on TV? There's a delay from France to Indiana but not like that)

I don't know what's dumber. Not using the technology or...not using it but letting television use it so the official's stupidity is laid bare.

Grow up French Open.

Posted by sandra 06/02/2010 at 10:44 PM

Sad that Roger lost but at least was Sod and not Nadal. As a Rog's fan I hope Sod goes to the final and beats Nadal. Maybe is destiny .... we will see on Sunday.

Posted by Shihab 06/04/2010 at 04:14 AM

Not to make excuses for Fed, and I'm sure this has been addressed but I'm not sorting through 500+ comments, but the weather conditions really did Federer in. He himself said in his presser that he played well but it was so oppressively heavy and cold and on the slowest court (Lenglen) that the deck was stacked in favor of the harder, flatter hitting Soderling. Honestly, their levels were close enough that on a warmer, sunny day, Federer could definitely have taken that match. It resembled Roddick/Gabashvili and Berdych/all-his-matches all over again.

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