Soderling Takes Down Nadal: Huge Opportunity for Federer and the Field

Andrew TongeAnalyst IIMay 31, 2009

PARIS - MAY 31:  Defeated champion Rafael Nadal of Spain walks off court following his defeat during the Men's Singles Fourth Round match against Robin Soderling of Sweden on day eight of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Robin Soderling shocked the tennis world by eliminating Rafael Nadal, the best clay court player and world's No. 1 in four sets, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2).  Using a barrage of booming serves and cannon-like forehands, Soderling made Nadal look rather ordinary.

No one expected this, at least not from Soderling.  Nadal looked frustrated and bewildered as he miss-hit balls that are routine for him, especially on the service return, and wondered why he wasn't playing better.

This loss forces us to ask other questions as well.  Some of the same ones we were forced to ask Roger Federer a little over a year ago. 

Rafa was very passive in this match, and chose not to be aggressive at all, even with his back against the wall.  Was this a tactical error, or is his physical, grinding style of play catching up with him?

You would tend to think not, given his age, but Nadal plays a lot of tennis, especially this time of year.  He participates in a lot of clay court venues and routinely puts in more match time than just about anyone else on the tour.

He could just be mentally and a little physically worn down from the rigors of the tour, and what it takes work-wise to stay on top of your game and on top of the rankings.  We will find out out how he rebounds in the grass court season after the French Open.

Nadal's loss affects the rest of the draw, but it probably affects Roger Federer the most.  This is his opportunity to finally capture the French, complete the career Grand Slam, serve notice that he is back and able to dominate, and finally tie Pete Sampras for Grand Slam victories.

It won't be easy, but this is his chance to seize the moment.  A loss by Federer with Nadal out of the way will prove to a lot of his detractors that his best tennis is behind him. 

He should be brimming with confidence because there isn't anyone left in the draw that he can't beat, and none of them present any underlying mental issues for him as well, as Nadal did.  Actually, Federer is the one under pressure to win now.

He should have no problem with Tommy Haas, but if Monfils gets through, he could be a major problem for Federer.  He is athletic and it is hard to get balls by him, and if he is on his game, he can be tough to beat on the clay with the crowd behind him.

Andy Roddick has had a nice run, but I don't think he will get past Monfils.  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has a chance as well.  He is a shot-maker and capable of mowing down his opponent with his powerful forehand. He is also not afraid to come to net, which makes him versatile and able to go to another plan if his ground game is not working as planned.

Nadal's loss is a tremendous opportunity for Andy Murray as well.  A win here will announce to the tennis world that he has arrived and ready to take over on the men's side.  Without Nadal in the picture, Murray has a good chance to get to the final if he can get past Fernando Gonzalez, another veteran shot-maker capable of beating anyone when he is on.

Murray doesn't have an overly impressive résumé on clay, but his speed and tennis IQ can get him through.  His side of the draw is the easiest, with Davydenko and Soderling on that side. 

Juan Martin Del Potro has a great chance to get to the semis if he can get past Tsonga.  The No. 5 seed has really come on the last year and is a major factor in every tournament he enters.

If Federer wants to cement his legacy and finally grab the French Open, he won't have a better opportunity.  On his side of the draw, Monfils, Tsonga, Del Potro, and the veteran, Tommy Robredo, figure to be his main roadblocks to the final.

No one ever thought that Nadal would lose at the French, much less this early.  No one thought Federer would be presented with this opportunity.  It will be interesting to see how he responds.

I, for one, think he will.  He has to.  There may not be another opportunity after this.