It is often said that a storm needs some building to become one, but it is also true that the past merges ever with the present. At Bastad and Stuttgart, tennis was treated to a bit of the simpler, older days.
There was that local-hero-claims-native-title story, which went well, coincidentally, with the local hero’s most dominant tournament ever. Does anyone remember Robin Soderling dropping so few games as this on a clay court tournament?
Sure, it was only Bastad, but it was in Sweden, and Soderling was under some pressure to win at home, especially with the likes of Tomas Berdych and clay court prince David Ferrer. It all proved just too easy for him, and surprisingly so. A first round bye set him up for some fresh tennis, as he got through fairly comfortably.
The semifinals got really interesting, however, when Soderling was rather quickly up a set and 5-0, having conceded Tomas Berdych, much an equal in stature and style on court. It was clearly proving to be a case of the local favourite’s favourite weekend.
Soderling really impressed in the final, and impressed us all, really, downing his greatest threat all week, David Ferrer, in two straight forward sets, 6-2, 6-2, and sending out the sort of positive vibes he would need for the American hard court season.
His exploits at home were emulated by another clay court victor—Juan Carlos Ferrero, a throwback, in many ways, to early last decade. His opponents, too, were the kind to invoke nostalgia, with none of them ranking within the top 50, and all being the sort of names one would have found in the early 2000s, when Ferrero could—it is hard to believe now—the king of clay (Knittel, Youzhny, Granollers, Delbonis, Andujar).
Ferrero is coming on a bit in years, however, and he would have savoured Sunday’s victory. It may well be the 31-year-old’s last, for all one may know. It was nice, nonetheless, to see the old clay king ply his trade in winning fashion, on a clay court, once again. Just for a week, at least.
We are entitled to give Soderling the greater boost, in terms of who would have gained the most out of winning where they did; Ferrero does exude the airs of a dying flame, while Soderling’s best may yet still be before him. But to do so would be to miss the point of Bastad, or Stuttgart.
These have always just been the stepping stones, small but enjoyable, that lined the bridge between the end of the RG-Wimbledon double and the peaks of the American hard court summer. In some sense, too, they are the last vestiges of the clay season, as we head into solidly tarmac territory for the next nine to 10 months.
All too often, we talk about the big guns, the Grand Slam favourites, the greats of all-time. But the ATP tour is so much more than that, and Juan Carlos Ferrero and Robin Soderling, this week, have contributed to that ever growing mosaic of the tennis world—in a part of the season generally considered uninteresting.