There is a great saying in sports here in the U.S.: Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Well, today Rafael Nadal finally got hit. And Nadal was not just hit but knocked down (literally) by an unlikely opponent, Robin Soderling, on his favorite surface at his favorite tournament.
As I watch the replay on NBC (damn them!), it’s absolutely 100% unfathomable that Soderling did what he did, beating Rafa 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 earlier today in the fourth round at the French Open. The win by Soderling will surely be among the greatest upsets in the annals of tennis. (Too bad it wasn’t on live TV here in the U.S., but that’s for another blog!)
So was there anyone is the World who thought Soderling stood any chance in this one? I highly doubt it. I know I did not, not after Rafa thrashed the Swede 6-1, 6-0 just a few short weeks ago in Rome. There simply was no indication this was to come. I thought Rafa would have a rough go of it this clay court season, but I never would have expected it to end like this.
But credit to Soderling who remained as calm as I’ve ever seen him, and the 24-year-old approached the match as just any other rather than as the match of his life against the greatest dirtballer of our time. And Robin did do some rob-in, he got the job done neutralizing Nadal’s seemingly invincible powers on Court Phillipe Chatrier by serving big, going after the Spaniard when the opportunity presented itself and keeping his shots deep. Not easy, but he executed.
For Nadal, this really is the first time he’s been hit in the mouth and I’ll be very interested to see his response at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open. Right now, I’ll stick with my initial thoughts that I had at the start of the year and predict that he’s already won his slam for the season, that being the Australian Open.
Bigger focus now will be on Roger Federer, who with Nadal now cleared out, stands just four matches from virtual immortality. The pressure has to be immense on Fed when you consider Nadal, Novak Djokovic and even David Nalbandian will be nowhere near center court at Roland Garros the final week. If there ever was his time to win in Paris this is it, and he knows it. My gut tells me he takes advantage and gets the jobs done. But let’s see how he handles arguably the biggest and most important week of tennis of his life.
As for the rest of the day’s events, another stunner was Fernando Verdasco getting brutalized by Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets. Strange result really. Andy Murray had his way with Marin Cilic and my new pick to reach the final, Fernando Gonzalez, destroyed Victor Hanescu.
For tomorrow, I love my man Gael Monfils and also Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Federer should get a gift from Tommy Haas and I’ll go with Tommy Robredo to take down Phil Kohschreiber. Crazy though, imagine Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray all losing on consecutive days at a Slam. It’s not that far fetched!
That all said, who doesn’t wish they could have been a fly on the wall in the room where Federer watched Nadal push a forehand volley just wide to give Soderling the victory. Wow. What a weekend of tennis.
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