French Open Men's Final 2010: Robin Soderling Vs. Rafael Nadal

antiMatterSenior Analyst IJune 5, 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23:  Robin Soderling of Sweden celebrates the match during the men's singles first round match against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 23, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Their names have coherent phonetic qualities which are opposite. The first name and second name in each of the names almost rhyme with each other and have a very nice ring:

Rob-in Soderl-ing and Raf-ael Nad-al .

In the context, the "ing " sounds almost like a phonetic antonym of "al ."

Maybe this is even a better final than Federer-Nadal final, least of all due to the phonetics. We know how a Federer-Nadal final goes, on Philippe Chatrier. We also know how a Federer-and-anybody-not-named-Nadal-final goes.

What we really don't know is how a Nadal-and-a-bad-matchup final would go, especially when the bad matchup is playing good tennis.

Maybe this is the first time in a long time that people are not really able to nail down their predictions with the customary confidence that a normal Grand Slam final would allow them. And its a very good thing for the fans.

There is a lot in the head in this finals—it's not just the racquets and the balls. Well, balls yes, but in a more figurative way.

Soderling seems to have a curious kind of attitude on court—a kind of aggressive calmness. And not just the way he hits the ball. The way he walks on court sure footed, and the way he looks at stuff—like you or the tennis balls. He just seems to be a man on a mission—to kill, to murder knowingly and not feel any guilt for it.

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Against Federer, just about any other guy would have thought for a moment about "reality" after taking a set off him or even a break. That reality being that the man on the other side is supposedly a tennis God. A few would have grinned ear to ear on thinking that thought. And the rest would have simply melted away after the next Federer forehand winner.

Simply because most people cannot put themselves in the shoes of the best. Being there strikes fear in their heart. It of course starts with excitement, which then moves on to self-doubt and finally to panic and fear. Almost have them saying, "Oh dear, what am I doing?"

We thought that is the way Robin looked up at Federer—that he had too much respect for Federer and what he is able to do on court that he would not be able to hold his hand and head steady enough, believing that the match was on his racquet. But no. He drilled one forehand. Then another and another and just dismantled Federer.

It was brute force tearing apart a wonderful sculpture. Or acid gnawing through a beautiful face, whichever suits you better. But the fact is that it was done in a matter-of-fact, cold-blooded manner.

Does this Soderling fear Nadal, or the final stage? Hard to say he does. He seems to be playing in the moment not caring about the conditions or the opponent, just thinking and doing what he needs to do to win the damn match. The piercing glare and the harsh expression on the face just add to that image of him (and also the presser where he said these things).

All of this doesn't in anyway imply that "Mr Soderling is a very bad man," if you are wondering.

Well, technique has been discussed and dissected all over the Internet so much so that it has become a web of tangled mess of puzzled analyses, which is exactly why this final is going to be most anticipated.

Sunday is going to be rather warm with possible showers. The moist conditions would make the ball heavier and the courts slower, though the warmer air maybe able to keep a bit of moisture to itself. Heavier balls mean the guy with the easier swing will do better.

Soderling would utilize the slowness of court to swing harder and hit through the ball. If Nadal plays his traditional clay court game, he would increase head-speed trying to hit the baseline with heavier spin.

A warm court takes, well, warmly to pace and spin—it allows the pacier flatter stroke to barge through and catapults the heavily top-spun ball into the air. But a wet court takes exception to both of these. It slows down the pacier shot and absorb some of the impact of the top-spin stroke. More importantly, it gives even less bounce to the flatter one.

We saw how Soderling has dealt with these conditions—he just hit harder and harder through the court and made the difference go away utilizing the higher amount of setup he was allowed. What will Nadal do?

Nadal has not offered a clear picture of late. His last few opponents did not give him any real rhythm. Hewitt and Almagro, especially, played an all-court attacking game. The rallies were not quite as long as Nadal would have liked. He has been playing more ugly getting his hands dirty on clay. Instead of giving orders from his air conditioned office, he has had to come down to the field and dug deep using his bare hands.

The only thing that has been certain is that the four-time-champion was able to raise his game a couple of notches when it mattered and has been serving pretty well (he averaged 188kph at 76% against Melzer). He has done that so well that he is yet to face a set-point in the tournament.

Over the years, Rafa has learnt to tame his boyish nature. He seems to be nearing the end of that process now, and is more held back in displaying emotions. There is no question he still fights with the same fervour, but he has successfully translated his somewhat completely physical notion of "fight" he held then, to a more technical one, by adding more to his weaponry and giving himself more options than "just run for the ball."

It is a more difficult thing to do to make the mental (emotional) transition than the physical and cerebral one, since while you can learn technique, you cannot learn tendencies. He has realised that, "Though all points are equal, some points are more equal than others." He has at last steeled himself from putting his body on line when it comes to the principle of fighting for every point.

Maybe his renewed conception that tends more towards "clutch" tennis is what he best needs in this match-up against Soderling.

Because, in this matchup, it depends on who has the nerve to pull the trigger first, and it most probably will not be just one person doing it throughout the match.

Will Soderling go flat out on a shoulder crunching top-spin forehand and tilt the rally in his favour and succeed most of the times? Or will Nadal play out of his comfort zone and take cuts at Soderling's rockets trying to hit it to the Swede's feet rather than playing it short into the service box?

Come Sunday, and we are probably in line to witness the best final of the year.

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