Robin Soderling: A Big Man Felled

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Robin Soderling: A Big Man Felled
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His was the first in an avalanche of withdrawals that rolled through the opening week of the U.S. Open—and perhaps the biggest.

When Robin Soderling announced, on the day he was to begin his Flushing Meadows campaign, that he could not play his first match, most assumed it was down to the wrist injury that had kept him out of competition throughout the U.S. Open Series. The tweet that followed, however, talked of illness.

Hi my friends, I am sorry but I just couldn’t play today. I had no energy, had stomach ache, headache and talking to the doctor we decided that I just couldn’t play. I really hope to recover quickly.

Other players made their exits with apparently similar symptoms, and so the media’s eyes quickly moved on to scan the draw and assess the improved prospects for the seeds in Soderling’s quarter—John Isner and Juan Martin Del Potro, in particular.

It was more than week before Soderling revealed—again in a tweet—that he had glandular fever.

It’s been a difficult period but I am getting better. Doctors confirmed that I have had mono for quite some time and this truly explains my lack of energy but my health is improving and I hope to be back on the court as soon as possible.

Although Soderling was scheduled to play in Bangkok next week, he has now revealed he will be unable to play any of the Asian swing. The virus is still with him and he must rest for at least a month more.

Soderling has not played a match since winning his fourth title of the year in Bastad in July. The title at his home tournament, however, masked what was already a worrying dip since his run of success early in 2011.

Clive Mason/Getty Images

He concluded the spring hard-court season with second-round losses at both Indian Wells and Miami and followed them with opening-match defeats in the first clay events at Barcelona and Estoril.

He enjoyed a brief upturn through the Madrid and Rome Masters and Roland Garros after beginning a new coaching partnership with fellow Swede Fredrik Rosengren and sounded full of confidence about his prospects for the rest of the year.

“Now finally, my body feels good," Soderling said. "I struggled a little bit with some injuries the past couple of months…I am going to work hard now and hopefully I can do well in the States.”

Instead, he now looks into an abyss of lost ranking points and the likelihood of missing the World Tour Finals in London. For Soderling has big points to defend both in Asia—where he last year reached the quarters in Kuala Lumpur, Beijing and the Shanghai Masters—and in the European indoor season—quarters in Stockholm, semis in Valencia and his first Masters title in Paris.

Indeed, with David Ferrer already ahead of him in the top five, Soderling faces the possibility of slipping behind Mardy Fish, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Del Potro by the end of the year. Should he be unable to play for the rest of the season, he could fall outside the top 10 for the first time in more than two years.

His absence at a third consecutive end-of-year final in London will be a loss not just to him but to the event, for there has always been something about the Swede that makes him stand apart from the rest of tour.

While he follows in the footsteps of countrymen such as Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg who painted a Scandinavian image of fleet-footed, nimbly-built, flaxen-haired players, Soderling claims little of that inheritance.

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However, what he lacks in grace of movement he makes up for in weight of shot. He strides rather than walks the baseline and hits a tennis ball with the kind of power that snaps like a pistol shot.

He plays in an era that expects its stars to be open access, media friendly and style conscious, when he prefers low key, private and unstarry. Few other players of Soderling’s stature, for example, would have not more than 30 words devoted to their “personal life” on Wikipedia. His own website is equally sparse when it comes to himself—and the ATP site, too.

Soderling does not joke like Novak Djokovic, charm like Rafael Nadal, nor is he conversationally expansive like Roger Federer. Instead, he is more reticent about stepping into the media limelight. He chose the quiet summer hiatus, for example, to launch not one but three charitable campaigns.

In fact, so successful is he at maintaining a low profile that it’s easy to forget Soderling made his persistent rise into the elite top five during one of the sport’s most competitive periods and has stayed there for over a year—until now.

In handling such a disappointing setback after winning three of his first four tournaments in 2011, Soderling has remained just as low-key. The latest tweet keeps it simple, as usual:

Very sorry to disappoint my fans, tournaments, and sponsors but I am still not able to play. My mono is not completely cured yet and so I have to take another month off. Hope to be ready for Stockholm Open in the middle of October.

Whenever he does make it back, it will be without fanfares, fireworks or fuss. Let us hope it is soon.

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