Did Soderling just evolve tennis to a new, higher level?

Like a hatchet wielding lumberjack, Robin Soderling trudged his way into the studio and brutally destroyed the artist. Roger Federer’s dazzle was not enough to thwart the relentless, ferocious violence which evicted the former champion from his domicile.

The four-set victory by the chest-pounding Swede might have marked a monolithic moment in the evolution of tennis, where artistry and genius – no matter how majestic and brilliant – will succumb to the pure power of the modern big men. Kind of like how Martina Hingis was overthrown by “big babe tennis” – as Mary Carillo called it.

Perhaps we saw a first glimpse of things to come at last year’s U.S. Open final where Federer was subdued in five sets by the heavy hitting of Juan Martin Del Potro. It seems that these new giants of the court have developed an extra level of leverage, strength and racquet head speed which the greatest champion of all time can’t find the solution for.

Dazed from watching Soderling 49 winners zip by him, Federer tried to point some of the blame on the rainy conditions, saying the defeat to Soderling related to his previous two losses on clay this year, where rain and wet conditions hampered his optimal game. But that could be a desperate grasp from a man who still is not quite sure what really hit him on Chatrier Court.

After this annihilation of the incomparable Swiss maestro – who earlier in the tournament firmly stated that he is a better clay court player now than he was five years ago – the tennis kingdom might have witnessed the inevitable changing of the guard. And the termination of an era now to be reigned over by this new, full-throttle, almost robotic baseline style of smashing winners all over the court.

Federer will soon drop to #2 in the ATP rankings.

The artist, after a long and illustrious career of creating magic, might have met his master in these towering, merciless machines who seemingly would rather crush the ball and the opponent rather than play with them.

The silent and ruthless fury of Soderling – in a matter of hours on Tuesday afternoon in Paris – has severely altered the balance of power in the tennis universe which could change the sport as we know it.

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  • Dan Markowitz · June 2, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Good read, Scoop. I do think it’s early to predict the demise of Federer the champ to players along the lines of Berdych, Del Potro and Soderling. Don’t think this trio has the versatility to beat Fed consistently over next couple of years, but I’m looking forward to watching.

    I don’t think Fed displayed too much sour grapes by saying that the wet conditions were a factor. He said both players were affected and Robin played great. Usually, Fed doesn’t give vanquishing opponents that much credit.

    Enjoyed the read.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 2, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    We will see but that was an amazing display by Soderling. Federer definitely was fair and classy about this loss but he did put it out there that the rain was a factor in each of his last three clay court losses. He did float that idea though Soderling certainly isn’t going to buy it.
    Nadal has to be very very concerned after seeing that.

  • gaspard · June 5, 2010 at 1:14 am

    What nonsense. Soderling played great, Federer just okay. When Soderling beats a Federer playing great, and regularly, then we can talk. Soderling has managed to beat Federer once in 13 attempts, so lets not get carried away. Soderling’s play kept him in contention, but the match was lost by a sloppy service game from Federer towards the end of the 4th set immediately after a rain break. That’s the reality, not a brand of tennis from Soderling the world has never seen. Federer’s entire legacy represents many examples of a brand of tennis the world has never seen before him or since. Federer will get him next time and the same goes for Del Potro and Berdych.

  • gaspard · June 5, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Correction: I meant a sloppy service game towards the end of the 3rd set, not 4th.

  • Scoop Malinowski · June 5, 2010 at 1:44 am

    You might be right, but you may be underestimating Soderling who might be on the up curve and could still become an even better, smarter more powerful player.

    Federer struggled for years then all the sudden it clicked for him, everything came together. Soderling may be yet to hit his pinnacle, it could come this Sunday — or two or three years down the road. One thing we do know is that was an awesome display against Federer who said he’s playing his best ever on clay now, he said that earlier in the tournament. Soderling deserves credit for taking it to Federer and taking out of his comfort zones.

  • gaspard · June 5, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Don’t get me wrong, Soderling is a great player, but he has to do a lot more before he can be spoken about in such lofty terms. While his tennis is impressive, it is less impressive to the eye than Federer’s tennis at its best.

    As earlier as 2003, with only one Slam to his name, and midway through the Australian Open in 2004, it was my observation that Federer was playing the best tennis I had ever seen, having followed and played the game for over 20 years at that point. The way Federer played was so striking, many others were saying the same, including former pros. I was convinced then he would equal and surpass Sampras’ 14 Slams so clear was his ability above the rest of the tour. As good as Soderling is, I do not feel the same way about his game. He’s an excellent player who can beat anyone on his day, like many players, but he is not playing transcendental tennis like we saw Federer play in his 2003 Wimbledon semi-final against Roddick, for example, and since.

    I think Federer has a lot of great tennis in him, which we will see over the coming years. He is right when he says he is a better player now, but I understand this to mean he has the capacity to play even better than he has in the past, not that he can or will bring that level to every match. He certainly did not bring that level in his last loss to Soderling, but you cannot always control how well you play on the day, particularly if you cannot play long enough to develop some rhythm and flow, due to interruption. The guy has been on the tour a long term and had a lot of success, so he will not be as mentally fresh and eager as some of the other players from week to week, but we can still expect some great things from him over the coming years.

    I don’t believe Soderling will improve significantly beyond the level he is playing at now. He might maintain it and post some more good results, but I do not believe he is going to take tennis to a new level. At Roland Garros he even said his top level has been about the same for the past 2 or 3 years. The great levelers in tennis are the dimensions of the court. However powerful you are, you still have to keep the ball in the court, this is why player’s like Santoro could beat players like Sampras and Gulbis and dominate Safin. Pure power looks impressive, but it will not win you matches if you exhibit less ball control than your opponent. What is unique about Federer is that he combines many attributes, which include power and control at the higher ends of the spectrum.

    Like Tsonga, Djokovic, Murray, Simon, Ferrer and many others before him, Soderling’s level and results will fluctuate down from its current peak, then rise up and go back down again ad infinitum. This idea of constant forward improvement and a stagnant tour does not exit. Also, if he happens to catch a Federer playing great, he will most likely lose, regardless of his level.



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