the legend

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Soderling's star still shining

Photo Titled Soderling fist
Soderling fist
It was Andy Warhol who predicted, back in 1968, that: "In the future, everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes." He did not have tennis in mind, but the old boy was right.

For a few brief moments this month – admittedly a little long than quarter of an hour – Robin Soderling was a star. The Swede was the first man to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and, from that fourth-round victory, he went all the way to the final. And then he lost. In straight sets. Played a chap called Federer who proved to be rather too good for him. His 15 minutes was over.

Now he has another shot at the fame game in SW19 after beating Gilles Muller in the first round 6-7 (7-4), 7-5, 6-1, 6-2. The 13th seed almost missed his chance, mind you, dropping the first set, but after he got his nose in front in the second, it was plain sailing.

Until this year, Soderling’s greatest claim to celebrity and notoriety was making the normally equable Nadal angry at the All England Club two years ago. As the rain sent both men back and forth between locker room and court, their match dragged on for days and everyone’s temper was beginning to fray. So when the Swede starting mimicking Nadal’s little tics and mannerisms, the Spaniard took umbrage. He also took the win in five sets but afterwards had a grumble about Mr Soderling’s manners.

“In the locker room, for the other players, [he] is not the best guy in the locker room,” Nadal said.

But those ill-mannered days appear to be behind Soderling now. He is being coached by compatriot Magnus Norman, the former French Open finalist and world No.2. Norman, one of nature’s quiet souls, appears to have brought the best from his charge.

Soderling admits happily that he used to have a foul temper. Playing games with his parents as a boy, he would fling the board and all the pieces to the floor if he was losing at anything from Monopoly to tiddly winks. These days, and thanks to Norman’s guidance, he keeps the anger under control and is able to channel it in order to bring the best out of his game.

Against Muller, the rasping forehand and cracking serve that had taken him so far in Paris were still very much in evidence. The only slight problem was that Muller had an equally ferocious serve and a nice line in returns, too. For almost two sets, there was barely a whisker between them but then Soderling edged ahead, took the second set and motored to the finish.

Still, he had better make the most of his moment in the sun – Soderling is in the same section of the draw as Roger Federer and could meet him in the fourth round if both men keep winning. To beat one Grand Slam champion in the fourth round of a major tournament is impressive. To beat two Grand Slam champions in the fourth rounds of consecutive major tournaments may be asking a bit too much.

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