Once Upon a Time at a Roland Garros Final...
Magnus Norman has really done something special to this temperamental Swede since taking over as his coach.
Always lightning in a bottle, Soderling's uncanny accuracy and power tennis could just as quickly give way to shots that were suddenly sailing so long. With a mental attitude that melted into molten metal.
In a game of inches, when you're shots go out by a foot, you know you've got the wrong day job.
But at this year's Roland Garros, we've only glimpsed the "old Robin" for a just few games in the last part of his match against Gonzalez. But then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. Down 1 - 4 in the fifth, it look like his magnificent run was coming to an end. Yet, it somehow he recaptured his focus and the momentum changed for one final and fatal time.
Throughout this whole tournament the lightning has been bottled and we seen him take some of the game's best current clay court players in arguably the most difficult draw: Ferrer, Davydenko and Gonzalez.
And that other clay guy.
Watching his semifinal against Gonzalez, I suddenly started feeling sorry for the ball: two of the hardest hitting pros were absolutely murdering the yellow sphere.
Sonderling's sterling performance since the fourth round has proven that his win over Nadal was no "hot day" aberration. He beat Nadal that day; Rafa did not lose.
Rog's French Open, on the other hand, as been inconsistent and we've seen him swing from highs and from lows. And a lot of flat tennis in between.
In two separate matches he's been taken to 5 sets -- one against an unranked player. In two other matches, he's dropped a set. One player (Jose Acasuso) I had to google up to find out "who-the-hell-he-was." Monfils mentally broke down after losing his first set in a tie breaker. Juan Martín de Porto ran out of gas in the fourth set and, playing at a new lower level, the match's tenor quickly changed from one his dominance to one of his defense.
Yet through it all, Rog has won. Victory they say, is the only thing that counts.
And that's one keys to understanding Federer. If Nadal wears you down physically, Rog tears you down mentally...but in a quiet, oh so subtle manner. It doesn't matter if you were dominating, give Rog the Great an inch and its game, set and match.
Everything says this year's Roland Garros is Roger's to win.
This will be his fourth straight final in Paris and the first in which he will not have to worry about you-know-who.
He's 9 - 0 in in Head to Heads against the upstart Swede. He just beat him in Madrid on clay in straight sets 6-1;7-5.
And the crowd. They'll definitely want to see the Swiss take his first French Open title.
Robin's fan club will be there too. His mom & dad, a couple of close relatives who bothered to make the drive down and a small circle of friends...okay, friend. His dog and cat won't be allowed in of course and we're not even sure about the feline's membership status...those dues still haven't come in.
Finally you still have to factor in the supreme talent called Roger Federer.
All that says this year it's...the Fed Express.
But still...something doesn't feel right. Something's happened to this Swede over just the past fortnight.
Something I don't understand.
Watch Robin at the change overs. He'll hide under the towel as if to recite some power mantra. He doesn't care if millions around the planet are watching.
At that may be his secret weapon: this guy just doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything. He doesn't care about Roger's destiny and what a clay Grand Slam would mean for him. He's going to zone out the crowd..the Rog...everything else.
He won't be intimidated.
God, I love to know what goes on under that magic towel.
The crowd will go for Rog, but the French, deep at heart, like the underdog. I think they're going to get their wish.
The Cinderella story will prevail. Sonderling in I-don't-know-how-many.
He just has to get it done before midnight.
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