French Open Men's Final Preview 2010: Rafael Nadal vs. Robin Soderling
It feels almost appropriate, doesn't it?
A year after wondering whether or not Rafael Nadal's loss to Robin Soderling at the French Open was a byproduct of the Spaniard's fragile knees, and not the Swede's dominant play, the answer will soon be known.
Soderling has an optimum opportunity to silence his naysayers. If Soderling defeats Nadal on Sunday, he clearly has the Spaniard's number on the dirt.
End of story.
However, a second straight clay-court victory over Nadal will require a lot more effort from Soderling this time around.
He's facing a fresher Nadal. Rafa has has not dropped a set in the tournament and enters the final riding a 21-match winning streak.
Nadal has yet to face a set point during the championship, and he's been pushed to three tiebreakers.
Nadal has battled through the wind, rain, and the different court conditions.
So has Soderling.
The Swede is riding a wave of confidence after defeating Roger Federer for the first time in the quarterfinals. And his debilitating pace has seldom been matched through six rounds.
Soderling has also talked the talk, saying he doesn't care about which opponent stands in front of him. Nadal, on the other hand, has made it clear that he doesn't dig the Swede's demeanor.
With that in mind, and a put-up or shut-up match waiting in the bounds, let's take a closer look at how this potential blockbuster could unfold.
Rafael Nadal vs. Robin Soderling
Nadal leads the pair's career head-to-head series 3-2. However, Soderling has won their last two meetings.
Isn't it a great dynamic when two players just can't stand each other? Nadal and Federer have given us more than enough excitement throughout the years, but their mutual respect (an admirable variable) has lent to more love than loss on court.
We sure won't have that problem on Sunday.
Soderling has never worried about his popularity, and could care less about giving Nadal a hug after the finals.
Nadal, the more humble and well liked of the two, has described Soderling as someone "who I don't have pasta with."
Soderling told the media after his semifinal victory that he wanted Nadal in the final. Nadal gave Soderling his wish by brushing aside Melzer in straight sets.
Although the Spaniard is the one coming in with zero lost sets, I'm not quite sure Rafa is the favorite.
Soderling has proved to the tennis world that power still speaks volumes (even on clay), and that grinding relentlessly isn't the only method of success.
With that being said, will Nadal really have anything to worry about, considering his good bill of health and his flawless form?
You bet he does.
My concerns for the Spaniard heading into the final lie in the form of his exposed forehand corner. We've seen players take it to Nadal's forehand on hard-courts, and Melzer recently proved that attacking his forehand on clay can be profitable.
There's no question that Soderling can hit through the dirt more than Nadal can, and with imminent rain in Sunday's forecast, Nadal's high spin will be less effective.
However, Nadal is the master of figuring out how to dig his way back from any clay-court hole. And considering that Rafa's knees seem to be in working order, Soderling will have to play even better than he did last year.
Soderling has won four straight sets against Nadal, which includes a follow-up victory at the Tour finale in London. That win by the Swede can be thrown out the window at this point, considering Nadal's poor form at time.
But like I said, there will be no excuses for the Spaniard this time around.
Soderling is hungry and Nadal is vicious. They both want this title in the worst way.
Nadal hasn't tasted Slam glory since January 2009, and Soderling wants to show us all that he's learned something from his loss to Federer last year.
Something tells me that the Swede has figured out how to deal with his nerves—the conditions in Chatrier— as well as anyone.
We're well aware of how Nadal handles the pressure in Paris.
If the rain falls, Soderling should prevail. If it's dry and humid, I still like the Swede, although Nadal will wear him down.
Nevertheless, a popcorn match, and perhaps some Swedish dominance, could be just around the corner.
Pick: Soderling in four sets
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